Feinstein, Schwarzenegger Back Cell Study

Announced their support for a federal bill

LOS ANGELES – A bipartisan group of politicians — including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — announced their support Tuesday for a federal bill that would ban reproductive human cloning without harming embryonic stem cell research.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said Californians showed their support last November for stem cell research by approving Proposition 71, which provides $3 billion in state tax-exempt bonds to fund such California-based research for 10 years.

Schwarzenegger also said he supports a Senate bill co-sponsored by Feinstein, a Democrat, that would make human reproductive cloning or attempts to clone humans a federal crime. California already has a state law banning human reproductive cloning.

A competing bill co-sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, also would make reproductive human cloning a federal crime, but it would include a ban on somatic cell nuclear transfer, or therapeutic cloning.

«The Brownback bill is not designed to promote research and it would stop the California initiative in its tracks,» Feinstein said during a news conference at the UCLA Neuroscience Research Building.

Feinstein also urged the Senate to pass a House bill approved by that chamber in May that would expand the number of stem cell lines eligible for federal funding for research.

Therapeutic cloning, which relies on the use of embryonic tissue, produces genetically identical stem cells that can develop into any other type of cell in the body.

Advocates believe the procedure has the potential to provide new treatments and cures for spinal cord injury patients and those suffering from juvenile diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and other debilitating diseases.

Opponents of therapeutic cloning contend the process involves creating human life to destroy it.

U.S. Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, also attended the press conference to voice his support for Feinstein’s bill. Dreier said he has talked to President Bush repeatedly about the subject.

«We should pursue all avenues of research,» Dreier said. «There is bipartisan commitment on this issue.»

Villaraigosa, a UCLA alumnus, said the benefits from stem cell research would be felt far beyond the state.

«We need Washington to stop playing politics that could impact California’s efforts to lead the nation in life saving research,» the mayor said.

Paul Berg, a Nobel Laureate and professor emeritus at Stanford University, said he supports the ban on human reproductive cloning, but added the government should not hinder scientists’ ability to do research.

«We are not cloning people, we are cloning cells to treat patients,» he said.

Candace Coffe, a UCLA graduate student who suffers from a rare ailment called Devic’s Disease, urged Congress to pass Feinstein’s legislation.

Coffee, 26, a former «Miss Bakersfield,» became suddenly ill during a trip to Tibet and went blind in one eye. She takes 10 pills a day to ward off the disease’s painful symptoms.

«Somatic cell nuclear transfer offers a chance for a cure,» she said in a choking voice. «It’s a chance for me to lead a normal life. Don’t take away my hope.»