By this time tomorrow, it will have launched a massive wave of construction of labs for research into human embryonic stem cells – certainly the largest in the nation's history and perhaps globally. The final figures are not yet set but the value of the construction could exceed $800 million.
Building the labs will serve as a short-term stimulus economically, something to be applauded in these difficult economic times. But more importantly the construction will create a base for scientific growth in California for many decades to come, even if the stem cell dream proves elusive. And that is saying something for a state whose parsimonious government has short-changed its infrastructure since the 1970s.
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, as the agency is formally known, will set off its building wave with $262 million in grants to 12 universities and research institutions, ranging 600 miles from Sacramento to La Jolla. To earn the taxpayer's largess, the institutions had to come up with additional contributions that pushed the ultimate size of the effort beyond $800 million. And they aggressively tapped private donors for hefty chunks of cash.
The grants are the single largest round for CIRM, which has had its difficulties in the past and will have more in the future. But the agency, created by voters in 2004 and unprecedented in state history, has served as a beacon for scientific research nationally and internationally.
The agency's grants, which will total more than $500 million by the end of this week, have stimulated a beneficent buzz at a time when researchers bemoan the slow strangulation of research funding at the national level. The agency's actions undoubtedly played a role in the migration of at least 50 scientists to California since Prop. 71 passed, including several luminaries in the stem cell field. More are likely to come in the future.
Last January, we reported for Wired.com on the importance of CIRM's effort. Sean J. Morrison,director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology and board treasurer of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, commented on the significance of CIRM to the Golden State. He told us then:
"The resources invested by CIRM will help to maintain California as an international leader in biomedicine during this period of declining federal investment."CIRM has pioneered in other areas as well. Its research standards are a benchmark nationally. It has crafted intellectual policies in areas where you might say no man has gone before. It has fought a court battle to survive and raised tens of millions of dollars in private contributions to get through its early days. All the while operating with a tiny staff (26 or so) that is hardly larger than the number needed to run a 24-hour Burger King.
But these no folks are hamburger flippers. Some are scientists in their own right. All are skilled and dedicated. And they all put in incredible effort and hours.
Yes, it is time for a party for the stem "cellists" down at CIRM Central in San Francisco. Congratulations. Sphere: Related Content