Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Look at a Key CIRM Planning Document

From "educated ignorance" to "transformative thinking," the California stem cell agency has it all in a report aimed at "charting new directions" in its quest to finance $3 billion in stem cell research.

The 98-page document is one of the fundamental references used in CIRM's strategic planning process. It came out of a two-day international stem cell conference last fall that cost CIRM $128,489.

The report is primarily scientific but is worth reading even if you miss some of the scientific nuances. It points to possible CIRM funding directions that top scientists think would be worth pursuing. Some of scientists voiced opinions that CIRM highlighted. They even turned a phrase or two. Here are some excerpts from the report, which can be found on the CIRM Web site.
"With cell replacement therapy, we are 'at the stage of educated ignorance. We know what we don't know.' – Paul Berg(Nobel laureate from Stanford University)."

"The field of stem cell research 'needs more transformative thinking....Think of Eric Lander and the genome project....California is in a position to do something transformative.' – George Daley(head of Harvard University's stem cell effort and who also now serves on the advisory committee for CIRM strategic plan)."

"'If your goal is to advance medical knowledge, you have to push just as hard as you can at the edge … and that includes making chimeras. Pushing at the edge is what CIRM should be about.' – Irving Weissman(of Stanford University, Stem Cells Inc. and Cellerant)."

"'You can't separate basic research from therapy. '"— Nissim Benvenisty( of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)."

"Bench-to-bedside is a two-way street." – Arlene Chiu(director of scientific activities at CIRM)."

"If preclinical studies represent a bridge between the bench and bedside, then it is important to remember that the bridge runs in both directions. Although clinical trials often fail on the first try, new knowledge from both successful and unsuccessful trials can be brought back to the laboratory and used to design experiments that re-examine and extend basic premises. This process will lead to refined hypotheses and improved protocols for subsequent preclinical and clinical testing. In this way, basic, preclinical, and clinical research form a partnership that facilitates the development of well-designed, successful clinical trials and, ultimately, efficacious treatments for patients."

"The session revealed that stem cell research will benefit greatly from the development of critical tools, reagents and techniques. Few individual laboratories or institutions however are able to bear the financial burden of creating these tools alone. One recurrent suggestion is that CIRM could create central facilities or cores where new technology and tools for stem cell research would be developed and/or made available to researchers in California."

"Although stem cells are frequently associated with cell replacement therapies, the first practical uses of stem cells may be in applications such as drug discovery, toxicity testing and the development of diagnostics. Session 6 entitled Stem Cells as Tools for Disease Research and Therapy focused on research in which ESCs serve as novel tools for the molecular dissection of genetic-based diseases and for discovering new therapies, rather than for cellular transplantation. It is these tools which may offer the most significant near term rewards from stem cell research."
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