Michigan Senate Passes Bill On Stem Cells

A hot topic in Michigan law at the moment is the recent passage in the Michigan Senate of a bill that defines situations in which scientists may and may not perform testing on human embryos, and goes on to add reporting requirements, to ensure compliance with laws, as well as to keep track of embryo donation and storage.

The bill, which was passed by the Republican-majority Michigan Senate (and is expected to die in the Democrat-led Michigan House), first outlines the instances in which it is legal for scientists to use live human embryos (illegal in Michigan since 1963, until a 2008 constitutional amendment that said the state could not restrict, obstruct or discourage any research that would be otherwise be legal). It then goes over reporting requirements.

Each year, anyone conducting research on live human embryos needs to collect the following information and provide it in a report to a newly-formed Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee:

  • The name of the person managing the research.
  • The name and address of the physician's office or health facility where embryos were donated.
  • The number of embryos received from health facilities, thawed for research, discarded without being used, and in storage at the beginning and at the end of the year.
  • Each person performing research must provide their institution's guidelines, to ensure that the research does not violate federal laws, rules and regulations.

As the Senate bill was passed along party lines, with the House bill expected to do the same (to the opposite result), the critics are also divided along party lines. Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon, reacting after passage of the Senate bill, said it "appeared to be political in nature," and added that it went against the will of the Michigan population, which approved the constitutional amendment.

Republican state Senator Tom George, a primary sponsor of the Senate bill, disagreed. "This is reasonable and there is need to move forward with this." Other sponsors agree, saying the legislation falls within the state constitutional amendment and do not restrict, obstruct or discourage stem cell research.

Embryonic stem cells have long been the holy grail of researchers. Due to their ability to transform into any of the more than 220 cell types in the human body, as well as (in certain instances) replicate themselves indefinitely, embryonic stem cell research is often proposed to treat spinal cord injuries. Spinal cord tissue is unable to repair itself, so the ability to produce it is highly coveted.

Today's method of treating spinal cord injuries, which often are the result of car accidents, is the prevention of further injury. First-responders will generally immobilize the spine, which is carried over into surgery. After surgery, medication will sometimes ease inflammation around an injury (as well as reducing nerve cell damage). Immobilization and surgery are common components, which stabilize and realign the spine and remove any bone fragments which could further damage the spinal cord. After surgery, modern wheel chairs, computer-aided devices and electronic aids will augment a spinal injury sufferer's life, without any real improvement to the spine. Will embryonic stem cell research ultimately improve the lives of those with serious spinal cord injuries? Scientists working today hope so.