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Panel takes cloning ban out of bill

ATLANTA - The Senate is poised to pass a compromise bill aimed at encouraging stem cell research in Georgia.

A Senate committee on Tuesday approved a new version of legislation sponsored by Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, stripped of a provision banning human cloning.

Shafer, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, said he removed what had become a controversial part of the bill in order to pass the remainder of the measure.

The noncontroversial portion of the bill would create a commission to develop a procedure for volunteers to donate byproducts from childbirth - umbilical cord blood, placental tissue and amniotic fluid - to a "bank'' that would be operated by one or more of the state's universities.

Currently discarded as medical waste, the material is rich in stem cells.

Shafer said such "adult'' stem cells have been used by researchers to develop more than five dozen cures and treatments for degenerative diseases, and for repairing or reversing the effects of spinal cord injuries.

"I believe the newborn umbilical cord initiative is absolutely vital to scientific research,'' Shafer told the committee before Tuesday's vote. "I don't want to let the controversy over embryonic stem cell research stand in the way.''

Since introducing his bill late last month, Shafer has insisted that its ban on human cloning would not halt embryonic stem cell research currently under way in Georgia.

But critics said the language in the measure could be interpreted that way, which would send the wrong signal for a state interested in fostering biotechnology.

The new version of the bill passed the panel unanimously. It is expected to reach the Senate floor either on Thursday or early next week.