Stem cell bills locking horns in Senate

ATLANTA - Two state senators want Georgia to become a national leader in stem cell research, but they don't agree on how to accomplish that goal.

Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, introduced legislation this week aimed at fostering stem cell research using blood from umbilical cords of newborns.

His bill comes two weeks after Sen. David Adelman, D-Decatur, proposed legislation that also would authorize embryonic stem cell research, an area of science that has been the subject of an ethical debate nationally for the past five years.

Both measures would establish state commissions to develop a procedure for volunteers to donate to either a "tissue'' or blood bank that would be operated by one or more of the state's universities.

The donated material would be used by researchers looking for cures to such degenerative diseases as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes.

The two bills also would ban human reproductive cloning.

But they differ on what would be stored at those facilities. Shafer's would be limited to stem cells recovered from umbilical cord blood.

Adelman's bill calls for the new bank to accept not just cord blood but also placental tissue and unused embryos produced by fertility treatment that otherwise would be discarded.

Stem cells burst into the nation's consciousness in 2001 when President Bush moved to put limits on federal funding of stem cell research and ban entirely tax dollars going to researchers using embryonic stem cells.

The president received the backing of anti-abortion groups concerned that doing research on embryonic stem cells violates the sanctity of life and contains the potential of human cloning.

Others, including such prominent Republicans as former first lady Nancy Reagan and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist - a surgeon by profession - called for stepping up federal spending on embryonic stem cell research. Former President Ronald Reagan died in 2004 after suffering for years from Alzheimer's.

"Most Georgians would like us working on cures to degenerative, debilitating diseases,'' Adelman said.

But Shafer, chairman of the Senate Science and Technology Committee, said that avoiding the authorization of embryonic stem cell research gives his proposal a better chance of passage.

"Stem cell research has been hampered by the controversy over embryonic stem cells,'' he said. "This bill is designed to move stem cell research forward by sidestepping the controversy.''