World stem-cell session to be held in Baltimore

December 04, 2008|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

Baltimore will act as host to the 2009 World Stem Cell Summit, solidifying its position as one of the nation's foremost crucibles for bioscience research, officials said yesterday.

The summit, to be held over three days in September, is expected to bring together more than 1,200 scientists, companies and foreign government emissaries to share information in the fast-emerging field of stem-cell research.

The field is expected to get a boost if President-elect Barack Obama reverses President George W. Bush's restrictions on federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells.

"While certainly there will always be ethical questions around this, I think much of the controversy will subside with Barack Obama as our new president," Gov. Martin O'Malley said at a stem-cell symposium at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel. "He will put our federal government back in the business of developing new science, new research and new healing capacities."

O'Malley has endeavored to make Maryland a hub for biotechnology, and this year he announced plans to invest $1.1 billion over the next decade in the research by building on existing tax credits and grant programs, including $20 million annually for stem-cell studies. In the past three years, Maryland has set aside $56 million for stem-cell research, an effort shared by several other states filling the vacuum of federal money.

Next year's world summit is expected to address funding opportunities, as well as regulatory and ethical issues, intellectual property and medical tourism

Bernard Siegel, executive director of the Florida-based Genetics Policy Institute and the organizer of the fifth annual summit, said he sees a shift from stem-cell research as a political concern to a matter of personal health with a "powerful consumer movement" driving demand.

The summit will be hosted by Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland.

Karen Rothenberg, chairwoman of the Maryland Stem Cell Research Commission, called the summit "an extremely positive opportunity for Maryland."

"It should show our citizens that the investment we've made in just a few years is already creating so many opportunities for us," she said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Frank D. Roylance contributed to this article.

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