By Dennis Shook for   Published Sep 29, 2006 at 5:24 AM
Stem cell research doesn't just present challenges in the science lab but in the political laboratory as well.

That has been demonstrated time and again as Democrats and Republicans squabble over what kinds of experiments should be allowed when involving embryonic stem cells.

So normally Gov. Jim Doyle's recent announcement of $2.5 million in increased funding for the Biomedical Technology Alliance would not have the impact that it is having because the GOP legislators could be counted on to alter the plan.

But some Republicans believe there might now be some wiggle room in stem cell research plans that didn't exist as recently as last year. That is when another BTA funding plan was rejected by the governor because of restrictions placed on research by Republican legislators.

Doyle announced that he would propose spending $2.5 million in the 2007-09 biennial budget for research by the BTA, which is a coalition of researchers from southeastern Wisconsin universities - Marquette University; the Medical College of Wisconsin; the Milwaukee School of Engineering; the University of Wisconsin's Milwaukee and Parkside campuses; and Techstar, which helped create the BTA.

That group would be expected to match the state funds, providing a $5 million research pool for investments in various areas of biotechnical research.

A similar proposal died last year after state Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, amended the plan to forbid the funds being used for embryonic stem cell research.

Southeastern Wisconsin legislators like state Assembly Minority Leader Jim Kreuser, D-Kenosha, who would like to see the funds used to promote the local research and possibly local spinoff jobs, believe a compromise can be reached.

"I think it can be narrowly defined to take those concerns out of it," Kreuser said after Doyle's announcement.

And Kanavas agrees. "My position on stem cells is very clear. I support even embryonic stem cell research as along as embryos are not destroyed in the process," Kanavas said. "We are trying to move the debate beyond the discussion of embryos, to  try to move beyond the need for that. And I am surprised that people are  afraid of opening up a new front in this research."

Kanavas said many Republicans appreciate that Wisconsin has been a leader in this research since its inception and can visualize the industry and jobs that can grow out of stem cell research. "It's evident that there is a lot of beef here," he said. "So  it is important that we move this debate beyond the specific techniques. But there does need to be limitations on this research. Nobody - Democrats or Republicans - wants cloning. Period. So there are techniques we are going to have a problem with. Yet it could be terrific as long as parameters are put around it."

Kanavas, however, questioned the timing of the announcement, coming just weeks before the November general election. He added that if Doyle's opponent, Republican Mark Green, is elected that Green would likely accept limitations such those he's seeking.

"Anything we can do to transform the Milwaukee area into an innovation-based region, within those parameters, I am for," he said.

Doyle press secretary Matt Canter said the BTA funding could have been done last year but Republicans sought different funding sources and also wanted to add the embryonic stem cell prohibition."Senator Kanavas and some others caved in to the extreme factions of their party" in changing the plan, Canter said.

But he said many Republicans might now be willing to reconsider the program considering its many potential entrepreneurial applications.