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Californians Expect to Become Leaders in Stem Cell Research


California voters approved a measure Tuesday to provide $3 billion for stem cell research. Officials say the measure will put the state in the forefront of cellular medicine.

Details have yet to be worked out, but the citizen-sponsored initiative, approved by 59 percent of California voters, authorizes the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund a California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Supporters say stem cell research offers hope to those with spinal cord injuries, like the late actor Christopher Reeve, who was an outspoken supporter of the California measure. They say it could also help those with nerve and brain conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

President Bush has restricted federal funding for research using embryonic stem cells, citing concerns over the destruction of human embryos. Federal funding is more freely available for research using adult stem cells, but some scientists say that is far less promising. Unlike adult stem cells, those from human embryos have the ability to develop into all cell types of the body.

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger supported the measure over the objections of his own Republican Party, and he celebrated its passage Tuesday evening.

"We passed Proposition 71 to fulfill the promise of stem cell research, and to make California a global leader in this important health care effort," he said.

California will disburse up to $300 million a year for the new center over a 10-year period, repaying the funds, six billion dollars in all including interest, over 30 years.

Dr. Vincent Fortanasce was one of the 40 percent of Californians who opposed the measure. He says the funds should have gone to more pressing health care needs.

"I think the people of California are going to feel sorry, because they're going to find out that this is going to cause more harm than good, while our emergency and trauma centers are closing," said Dr. Fortanasce.

But Fiona Hutton of the Yes on Proposition 71 campaign called the measure's passage a win-win scenario.

"Not only are we going to help potentially cure people and develop these treatments, but it's also a great economic boost for the state of California in terms of the life sciences or medical and biotech centers here, which are just going to be growing," said Ms. Hutton.

The campaign to pass Proposition 71 raised more than $20 million from high tech entrepreneurs, including Microsoft's Bill Gates and the founder of the Internet commerce site eBay.