Topeka In a mix of science and anti-abortion politics, Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday signed into law a bill that establishes the nation's first adult stem cell research and treatment center at the Kansas University Medical Center.
"I am honored to sign this bill of hope and promise and current treatments," Brownback said.
Brownback described adult stem cell and umbilical cord blood research as an "exploding" area of new discoveries to treat people with a wide range of diseases. "KU will be the leader, Kansas will be the leader, which is fabulous in this burgeoning field," he said.
But the bill carried political overtones.
It was sponsored by vehement abortion opponents and pushed by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobbying group.
In addition, KU never asked for the legislation establishing what will be known as the Midwest Stem Cell Center, and the Legislature has yet to produce the estimated $1.1 million needed for the center's startup.
The center will be charged with working on adult stem cell, cord blood and related stem cell research, providing therapies to patients and serving as a clearinghouse for physicians on cutting-edge treatments.
Summary of Senate Bill 199 ( .PDF )
The center is prohibited from using embryonic stem cells or cells taken from aborted fetal tissue. Abortion opponents oppose human embryonic stem cell research because it involves the destruction of the embryo.
Dr. Buddhadeb Dawn, director of the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases at KU Medical Center, was the only KU representative on hand at the bill-signing ceremony. He said the number of clinical trials of bone marrow stem cells for treatment of heart disease had been increasing tremendously over the past several years.
"It would be great to bring such therapies to Kansas, and the formation of such a center which would engage in adult stem cell therapy in patients would give Kansans the chance to be enrolled in such therapy and perhaps give treatment that would change their life," he said.
David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council, said the center "puts Kansas in a leadership position."
State Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, R-Shawnee, who carried the bill in the Legislature said she would push for funding the center when the Legislature returns May 8 for the wrapup session.
"That's all under discussion right now," she said.
At the bill-signing ceremony, several people who have survived diseases spoke about their treatments and how they believed the new center would expand the availability of treatments for others.
Mary Rusco, of Wichita, said she received stem cells from an umbilical cord.
"I have been cancer free for four years now, and as far as I'm concerned I'm cured. I really appreciate the fact that Kansas is doing this so that other people can have access to this opportunity," she said.
Terry Killman, of Independence, received a bone marrow transplant from his brother.
"This bill will make it that much better for more people to have the opportunity that I've had to live," he said.