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Corzine signs stem-cell research bill

by Josh Margolin
Thursday July 26, 2007, 2:14 PM

Gov. Jon Corzine greets Carl Riccio after signing the New Jersey Stem Cell Research Bond Act at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange. Riccio was injured in a high school wrestling accident.

Gov. Jon Corzine this afternoon signed legislation giving residents the opportunity to vote on whether the state should borrow $450 million to bankroll stem cell research grants.

During a ceremony at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, Corzine was joined by political leaders, scientists, and rehab experts, who hailed the referendum as a key step in making New Jersey a leader in stem cell research.

"This is one of the most exciting days I've had in my life," the governor said, opening up the event.

Barbara Johnson, mother of Christopher Reeve, attends the signing of the New Jersey Stem Cell Research Bond Act at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation today.

Corzine said he would campaign personally for the referendum (A3186), which will appear on statewide ballots in November.

Among those attending the ceremony was the mother of the late Christopher Reeve, the actor who became a national spokesman for stem cell research after a horse-riding accident left him paralyzed more than a decade ago. The New Jersey stem cell institute, which has already been approved, is going to be named after Reeve, officials said.

"It's an emotional day, a wonderful day," said Reeve's mother, Barbara Johnson of Princeton.

Last month, Corzine and top legislative leaders reached agreement on the plan to seek voter approval to the money to pay for the researchers who will work in the new science labs - a strategy Corzine said repeatedly will keep the state "on the cutting edge" of the emerging stem-cell technology.

The bond issue will finance up to $45 million per year in stem cell grants over 10 years. It replaced a proposal approved by the state Senate (S1091) to provide $230 million in grant support.

Last month, the state Economic Development Authority separately approved $9.1 million for design and pre-development costs of the proposed Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, a $150 million research institute expected to take about three years to build. The institute will also run satellite facilities in Newark and Camden.

The new stem cell center is scheduled to occupy five floors of a 16-story University Research Tower to be built by Rutgers University, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in downtown New Brunswick.

Anchored by a nine-story parking garage, the new tower will include two stories for the hospital's Cardiovascular Institute and space for a proton beam cancer treatment center as well as the five floors devoted to the stem cell center.

Critics have opposed the state's stem cell research plans, saying they are immoral because the cells often are harvested from human embryos. There was, however, no discussion of the criticism during the bill-signing ceremony.

© 2006 Carl Riccio Special Needs Trust