Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Stem Cell Race: How California is Like the Cobbler's Children...Sort Of

California's stem cell effort, still yet to dispense a single research dollar, has served as lever globally to boost funding for the field in locations ranging from New Jersey to Australia.

That's one of the conclusions of the third article in a three-part series in the San Diego Union-Tribune called "The Stem Cell Race."

Written by reporter Terri Somers, the piece examines California's $3 billion effort, which has been hampered by a legal tussle over its legitimacy. Somers wrote:
"While San Diego's large stem cell research community has been waiting to tap the state funding, the Harvard University area – supported largely by philanthropists – has become the U.S. science cluster best known internationally for embryonic stem cell research.

"Also pushing ahead have been the governments of Singapore, China, Japan and several European nations, which have supported their embryonic stem cell scientists with money and favorable policies.

"'Proposition 71 is supposed to help the economy by creating jobs first, then new tools and treatments, but until it really gets moving it's just an old Jag in the garage," said Tom Okarma, chief executive of Geron, a Menlo Park stem cell research company."
Somers continued:
"New York Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer plans to push a $1 billion 10-year stem cell initiative that mirror's California's. On Friday, New Jersey's legislature approved borrowing $270 million to fund stem cell research. And Connecticut has floated a $100 million 10-year initiative. Part of the states' impetus was the fear of losing top researchers to California and abroad."
The San Diego article also reported:
"Scientists and government officials from 15 nations have visited the stem cell institute over the past year, said Zach Hall, the institute's president. Delegations from India, Israel, the United Kingdom and China were eager to forge relationships and take home ideas and the possibility of collaborations."
Nonetheless, Somers reported that 30 "notable" scientists have come to California in the last two years because of the state effort. An informational graphic with the story showed that private and federal funds totalling $234 million have poured into the state, boosting research efforts. And she noted that CIRM now has $181 million in hand, ready to dispense on research.
"'With these loans California's funding is now six times the nation's funding through the (National Institutes of Health) and California is squarely in the global leadership of this breakthrough field of medical research,' said Robert Klein, chairman of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine."
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