Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ev'rythin's Up To Date In Kansas City

Stowers InstituteOn November 7, 2006, voters in Missouri will do far more than chose between the usual Democrat and Republican suspects. They will vote on whether or not to amend the Missouri constitution to allow, protect, and implicitly promote stem cell research in the state. In fact, this Red state may trump all Blue states except California by passing Amendment 2: The Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, which limits legal restrictions on stem cell research.

Why would Missouri and its largely Republican political class promote stem cell research? The answer is simple: the Stowers Institute For Medical Research. The Stowers Institute was set up in Kansas City by mutual fund moguls - and cancer-survivors - Jim and Virginia Stowers, who have been donating the fortune they made from their company, American Century Investments, to the Institute. Currently, the Stowers Institute has an endowment fund in excess of $2 billion, making it the second wealthiest private medical research institution in the world, and future donations may raise it above the reigning champion, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Stowers already has about 60 000 square meters of premium laboratory space, and plans to add an additional 60 000 square meters every decade, "in perpetuity". However, there is one significant caveat: the Institute - and its founders - have let it be known in no uncertain terms that expansion can only be assured upon successful passage of Amendment 2. Rumors of expanding in California or Massachusetts have concentrated the minds of politicians and voters alike.

Stowers InstituteThe Stowers Institute is on a roll. A star Harvard Medical School researcher, who has been recruited by the Stowers Institute, described the recent rate of successful recruitment as "one Harvard or Stanford professor per month". Kansas City is enjoying its newfound status as a center of cutting-edge biomedical research. And, the governments of both Missouri and Kansas, whose border Kansas City spans, are planning for the myriad economic benefits they expect to flow from biotechnology - most notably stem cell technology - developed at, and spun-off from, Stowers.

All that stands in the way is Amendment 2. In a recent drive through the heart of Kansas City, I conducted a thoroughly unscientific poll by counting lawn-signs favoring ("YES On 2 For Lifesaving Stem Cell Cures") or opposing ("Vote No On Amendment 2 -") Amendment 2. The result: 25 Yes and 3 No.

And so, it appears that the citizens of Missouri may ensure that "Ev'rythin's up to date in Kansas City, They've gone about as fur as they c'n go!"


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