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Stowers Institute halts expansion plans, but buys more land

By AP/KWMU

Kansas City, MO – Citing a continuing controversy over stem cell research in Missouri, officials with the Stowers Institute for Medical Research announced Thursday that plans for a major expansion have been suspended.

Stowers officials also announced that the institute had transferred about $850 million in endowment assets from Missouri nonprofit corporations to a newly established nonprofit Delaware corporation.

However, institute officials also announced that the research facility had purchased a 100-acre tract of land in Kansas City for eventual expansion if the political climate changes.

The announcement comes amid continuing controversy over allowing some types of stem cell research in the state, even after Missouri voters last fall approved a constitutional amendment protecting the research.

Supporters of stem cell research say it could provide cures or new treatments for many types of diseases. Opponents, however, say a type of stem cell research called somatic cell nuclear transfer requires the destruction of embryos, ending life at its earliest stages.

Jim and Virginia Stowers, who founded the medical research institution, financed most of the successful $30 million campaign last year for the constitutional amendment, which guaranteed any federally allowed stem cell research and treatments could occur in Missouri.

Before that vote, Stowers officials said the institute's expansion plans hinged on approval of the amendment.

"We remain steadfastly committed to the search for life-saving cures through research with human embryonic stem cells," Bill Neaves, president and chief executive officer of the Stowers Institute, said in a statement Thursday.

However, Neaves said researchers who are interested in doing work with embryonic stem cells continue to be reluctant to come to the Stowers institute because of "the persistent negative political climate in Jefferson City" toward the research.

"As long as the political climate in Missouri remains unfavorable," Neaves said, "outstanding scientists who work with human embryonic stem cells prefer to work elsewhere, and Missouri will be denied the opportunity to advance what many consider the single most promising field of biomedical science."

Stowers, a Kansas City native, remains committed to future expansion of the institute in Kansas City, David Welte, the institute's general counsel, said in the statement Thursday. That is why the institute has acquired 100 acres in Kansas City for future expansion.

"When or how the property is developed will greatly depend on the political climate in Missouri," Welte said, adding that the newly acquired land would accommodate several decades of growth if the Stowers institute eventually decides to expand.

The institute also announced the creation of a nonprofit Delaware corporation called Stowers Resource Management Inc., and said it transferred about $850 million in endowment assets from its Missouri nonprofit corporation to the new corporation.

Welte likened the move to an individual investor diversifying his portfolio. "The wise investor reallocates his assets if circumstances in a certain sector look challenging or threatening," he said.

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