CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich and Comptroller Dan Hynes today announced that Illinois will become the first state in the Midwest, and only the fourth state in the nation, to commit public funds to the life-saving work of stem cell research. Studying stem cells allows scientists and doctors to better understand what causes serious medical illnesses and conditions in hopes of discovering new ways to treat or even cure them.
By Executive Order, Governor Blagojevich today directed the Illinois Department of Public Health to create a program that will award $10 million in grants to medical research facilities for the development of treatments and cures. The Governor estimated that the program, to be named the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute (IRMI), will be up and running by the end of the year.
With this announcement, Illinois becomes one of the nation’s leaders in providing public funding for stem cell research. While proposals to fund this cutting edge medical research have stalled in states including Massachusetts, Maryland, and Missouri; Illinois joins New Jersey, California and Connecticut in providing funding for stem cell research.
“Since the federal government has chosen to stall the medical advancements that will come with stem cell research, it is up to the states to take action,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “We cannot allow our citizens to suffer when relief may be available.”
“The federal government’s inaction presented two options for Illinois,” said Hynes. “We could either refuse to acknowledge the inevitability and worth of scientific progress, or we could embrace and find a means to harness it for the betterment of our citizens. We could be timid and reactionary, or bold and visionary. We chose to be bold.”
Stem cells are cells that have the potential to develop into many different types of healthy new cells in the body. As described by the National Institutes of Health, they act like an internal repair system for the body. Stem cells can divide to replenish other cells for as long as the body is alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential to either remain a stem cell or become another type of cell like muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.
Studying stem cells allows doctors to try to analyze how cells transform into other cells. Many of the most serious illnesses or birth defects are caused by problems in this process. So, understanding the process better may help doctors discover how to prevent, treat or cure illnesses and conditions.
A potential way to use stem cells is to make new cells or tissues for medical therapies. Currently, donated organs and tissues are used to replace those that are diseased or destroyed. But, there are far more people who need organ transplants than there are organs available. Some stem cells offer the possibility of making replacement cells and tissues to treat various diseases and conditions including Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
The Governor’s Executive Order dictates that the IRMI program will provide funding for stem cell research that involves adult, cord blood and embryonic stem cells. Medical and scientific accountability standards and rules will generally be consistent with those issued by the National Academies of Sciences and the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Public Health will issue an annual report that details IRMI’s operation.
“Stem cell research is a largely untapped medical resource that may lead to cures for painful diseases ranging from cancer to Parkinson’s,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “We owe it to people who are suffering to exhaust every possibility to better treat or perhaps even cure disease. I’m honored to be able to provide that opportunity. I want to commend Comptroller Hynes and Representative Tom Cross, Sen. Jeff Schoenberg and Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, along with so many others, for their hard work in making this initiative possible.”
Hynes, who aggressively fought for stem cell funding this past legislative session, praised the Governor’s action.
“Today, the state of Illinois made a down-payment on hope for the millions of Illinoisans or their family members who are suffering from devastating diseases or injuries. This is not hope clung tenuously to wishful thinking, but realistic hope, grounded in scientific advancements already made and strong consensus within the scientific community that stem cell research holds limitless potential,” said Comptroller Hynes.
“Today marks an historic step forward for medical research in Illinois, as we provide scientists with more tools to aggressively pursue potential breakthroughs in finding cures for numerous diseases and conditions,” said Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston), chief Senate sponsor of legislation promoting expanded stem cell research. “Thanks to Governor Blagojevich, today we are answering the prayers of countless families who cling to the hope that cures can be discovered so that their loved ones will one day realize a better quality of life.”
“The potential of the Institute and the research that will result from its work will have an enormous impact in sparing lives in Illinois – mothers, fathers, sons and daughters will likely be saved from what might have otherwise resulted in terminal illnesses,” said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), chief House sponsor of legislation promoting expanded stem cell research. “I am proud to be a part of this effort to fund stem cell research in Illinois and applaud the Governor for taking this courageous and historic step forward.”
The Executive Order also mandates that no funding will be authorized for research involving human cloning, nor will funding be awarded to anyone who purchases or sells embryonic or fetal tissue for research purposes, and time limits will be set for extracting cells from blastocysts.
"Stem cell research has been clouded by politics at the federal level and these funds will augment that to allow scientists to do the critical work that needs to be done," said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. "Funding this type of research at the state level will open the doors to groundbreaking medical advancements in the areas of diseases like juvenile diabetes and neurological disorders."
The Executive Order drew immediate praise from the scientific community and advocacy communities including the University of Chicago, ALS Les Turner Foundation, Spinal Cord Injury Association of Illinois, Protestants for the Common Good, Illinois in Motion, Children’s Memorial Research Center, American Diabetes Association, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Hadassah, Health Care Consortium of Illinois, Sickle Cell Disease Association of Illinois, Rehabilitation Institute of Illinois, Rush University, Brain Injury Association of Illinois, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Parkinson’s Action Network, Autism Society of Illinois, University of Illinois Chicago, Canavan Research Illinois, Illinois Service Providers Alliance, Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, and American Parkinson’s Disease Association.
“The scientific community is grateful for the opportunity to explore the promise of stem cell research, including all types of stem cells and their potential application for many of society’s most debilitating diseases - including Parkinson’s, juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injuries and cancer. Through the vision and leadership of the Governor and the Comptroller, the State is now giving our academic research centers the means to explore this promise and contribute new therapies for humankind,” said Dr. Mary J.C. Hendrix, President and Scientific Director of Children's Memorial Research Center.
“Illinois can join the growing numbers of states that have embraced the best medical research man has to offer for the benefit of people like my daughter, Clara. She has done her part by pricking her finger ten times a day to test her blood sugar, putting a large needle into her stomach to deliver insulin, and counting the carbs of everything she eats. And now our elected leaders have done their part to support her,” said Gretchen Livingston, Legislative Chair for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.