A University of Wisconsin faculty organization voiced opposition Friday against state legislation that would make use of and experimentation on fetal body parts illegal.
The Public Representation Organization of the Faculty Senate issued a statement saying the legislation would threaten the university’s standing as an international leader in stem cell research.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Andre Jacque, R-Bellevue, and Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, is co-sponsored by 51 additional Republicans.
Judith Burstyn, UW chemistry professor and PROFS steering committee member, said she is concerned repercussions of the legislation could lead to a loss of university researchers, as well as the university’s position as a top research institution.
“I think the real concern is that this legislation will so severely constrain stem cell research that we will both lose the people who we have here who are doing the world’s leading research in stem cells, and also that we will lose our position as the world’s leader in stem cell research,” she said.
In a statement issued to the state Legislature Wednesday, Interim Chancellor David Ward urged lawmakers to oppose the bill.
If passed, the legislation would drastically weaken UW’s world renowned work in the field of stem cell research, Ward said in the statement.
“The bill would affect both fetal tissue and cells derived from fetal tissue, which would hamper a wide variety of promising biomedical and basic scientific research at UW-Madison and eliminate ongoing studies such as those involving child development, cancer and infectious diseases,” Ward said in the statement. “This, despite the fact that the federal government permits, regulates and funds fetal-tissue research.”
Burstyn said if the legislation passes, finding and hiring new researchers will be a difficult process. She said experts in stem cell research will leave the state.
Burstyn also said the legislation would prohibit the use of adult stem cells.
“It’s a serious concern – especially in the scientific community – that the people who wrote this legislation don’t have much of a scientific understanding of stem cells,” Burstyn said. “Therefore, the legislation will be written in such a way that regardless of what their intention is, it will constrain stem cell research broadly, and not just stem cell research that comes about because of the use of embryonic stem cells from aborted fetuses.”
According to PROFS’ statement, as many as 100 researchers could be affected by the proposal.
Jay Heck, Executive Director for the non-partisan group Common Cause in Wisconsin, echoed the sentiment that passing the legislation could have harsh impacts on UW’s national and international standing as a top-tier research institution.
He said if the legislation does go through, the university should prepare to lose top-notch researchers, scientists and faculty in addition to millions of dollars in research money.
UW research brought in nearly $1 billion in research funding for the state last year, Ward said, much of it in biomedical research.
Andrew Welhouse, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and Grothman declined to comment. State Rep. Andre Jacque could not be reached for comment.