Topeka A lawmaker's proposal to ban human cloning and stem cell research could prompt a major player in the state's bioscience efforts to exclude Kansas as a possible expansion site.
"This kind of legislation would harm the state's growing life sciences effort and would seriously diminish the ability of universities to recruit and retain biomedical scientists," said Bill Neaves, president and CEO of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo. "Such a law would be viewed around the world as a serious antiscience measure."
The bill, introduced Thursday by Rep. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, would ban human cloning. But scientists said the bill's wording was vague enough to also outlaw embryonic stem cell research, which has been the subject of national controversy the past five years.
The Stowers Institute, which has a $2 billion endowment, announced last year it planned to build a 600,000-square-foot expansion, valued at up to $250 million, in the Kansas City area. But with Missouri and Kansas both considering stem cell research bans, it's possible Stowers Institute could expand outside the Kansas City area.
"The Stowers Institute will only expand its research facilities in a jurisdiction that welcomes research with SCNT," Neaves said. "All of us at the Institute remain optimistic that both Kansas and Missouri will remain cordial environments for research with SCNT -- research that holds so much hope for relief of human suffering."
SCNT is the acronym for somatic cell nuclear transfer, commonly referred to as therapeutic cloning. The process transplants DNA into an unfertilized egg to grow stem cells, which are primitive cells that can develop into any other type of cell under certain conditions.
The bill in question is nearly identical to a proposal Pilcher-Cook introduced during the 2002 legislative session. It passed the House of Representatives on a 90-32 vote but stalled in the Senate.
The bill also is similar to a bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback at the federal level.
"Manufacturing humans is a terrible human rights abuse," Pilcher-Cook said. "This reduces human beings to products and makes their worth dependent on the utility to others."
But advocates for embryonic stem cell research say the process could lead to treatments or cures for a wide range of diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Opponents say similar research using stem cells from adults -- which already have defined purposes -- have offered more proven results.
Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said he expected most legislators to support banning reproductive cloning. But he said the details of the bill would need to be examined by legislators to understand the full ramifications of the legislation.
"I think everybody would agree human cloning, on its face, is a bad idea," he said. "But we need to make sure we're not going to create laws that may have unintended consequences."
Dr. Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor for the Kansas University Medical Center, said six researchers on the Lawrence and Medical Center campuses currently use embryonic stem cell lines approved for federal funding by President Bush in 2001.
"There are absolutely no researchers or doctors in Kansas who want to clone humans," she said. "We absolutely support and agree that's not something any ethical physician or researcher would do. My worry is we want to review the language so we're not inadvertently prohibiting promising research or treatments. I'm extremely concerned about it."
But Pilcher-Cook said she thought other research routes -- especially adult stem cells -- offered enough promise of their own.
"We're seeing so much positive come from adult stem cells," she said. "Cloning has only been hype."