Friday, June 7, 2013

Amid budget cuts to higher education, KU gets funding for adult stem cell center

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

As Kansas University officials bemoaned legislative budget cuts this week, Kansas Board of Regents member Ed McKechnie wondered if those cuts could be alleviated somewhat by diverting funds that KU received in another area — but didn't request.

McKechnie, of Arcadia, was talking about the $2 million allocated over two years to create and run the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center at the KU Medical Center.

"Stem cell research is good, but I don't know if that's what we need to do right now," McKechnie said. "Might be a good idea to use that to offset other things."

Republicans pushed through an appropriations bill that cuts higher education by $66 million over 2 years.

Regents blasted the cuts but conceded there was little they could do about them except ask Gov. Sam Brownback to make higher education funding a priority next year.

But amid the cuts, legislators also approved the creation of the stem cell research center at KU, a center that KU officials did not ask for during the appropriations process.

The center will work on adult stem cell, cord blood and related stem cell research, providing therapies to patients and serving as a clearinghouse for physicians on cutting-edge treatments.

The center is prohibited from using embryonic stem cells or cells taken from aborted fetal tissue. Abortion opponents oppose human embryonic stem cell research because it involves the destruction of the embryo.

Brownback, an ardent opponent of abortion, signed the bill into law, giving it his full backing. Initially, the Legislature provided no funding for the center, but Brownback proposed a budget amendment using funds from the Kansas Bioscience Authority to get the center going.

The Legislature later changed that proposal to funding the center through general tax revenue.

Facing cuts in other areas at KU, McKechnie said maybe the funding for the center could be used elsewhere.

However, Regents Vice Chairman Fred Logan, of Leawood, said that wasn't a good idea.

"I'm all for the Legislature and governor putting money in," for the center, Logan said. He said world-class research on adult stem cells already is occurring at KU, and with the formation of the center "it now will be world-renown."