Monday, March 19, 2012

The AP on the California Stem Cell Agency: No Cures, Hazy Future

The Associated Press news service, whose reports circulate worldwide, has taken the measure of the $3 billion California stem cell agency, declaring that it has produced no cures and that it "faces an uncertain future."

The piece by science writer Alicia Chang asked whether the agency is "still relevant" nearly eight years after it was created by California voters and whether it will exist after the money for new grants runs out in about five years.

She wrote,
"Midway through its mission, with several high-tech labs constructed, but little to show on the medicine front beyond basic research, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine faces an uncertain future."
Chang's piece carries more weight than those in most publications. The AP is the backbone of news coverage in the United States. Its news feeds appear automatically on hundreds, perhaps thousands of web sites in this country. Her article will also serve as a baseline in the future as other reporters examine the stem cell agency.

Here are excerpts from the piece:
"So what have Californians received for their money so far?

"The most visible investment is the opening of sleek buildings and gleaming labs at a dozen private and public universities built with matching funds. Two years ago, Stanford University unveiled the nation's largest space dedicated to stem cell research - 200,000 square feet that can hold 550 researchers.

"There are no cures yet in the pipeline and CIRM has shifted focus, channeling money to projects with the most promise of yielding near-term results."
Chang wrote,
"Several camps that support stem cell research think taxpayers should not pay another cent given the state's budget woes.

"'It would be so wrong to ask Californians to pony up more money,' said Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society, a pro-stem cell research group that opposed Proposition 71, the state ballot initiative that formed CIRM."
The article quoted UC Davis stem cell researcher Paul Knoepfler as favoring another bond measure to keep CIRM afloat, although he said he recognizes the average Californian may disagree.

Roger Noll, professor emeritus of economics at Stanford, was quoted as saying that "CIRM's legacy has yet to be written."
"'CIRM spent a lot of money and there's a lot of stuff going on, but it's too early to know whether it was worth it,' Noll said."
Chang concluded with these four paragraphs:
"David Jensen, who runs the blog California Stem Cell Report, said Californians have benefited, but whether it will be worth the $6 billion the state has to pay back remains unclear.

"'The agency's responsibility is now to get the biggest bang for the buck, which is no easy task given the tentative nature of much of the science involved,'" he said in an email.

"Some think CIRM has left a mark whether or not it will exist in the future.

Its 'legacy will be felt in part by the stimulus that it has had on stem cell' research in California, said Fred Gage of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies."
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