Tuesday, April 30, 2013

'Praise' for California Stem Cell Agency from Unlikely Corner

The California stem cell agency this month received what some might consider a gesture of approval from a longtime foe – LifeNews.com.

LifeNews is a site devoted to anti-abortion efforts and information and is sharply opposed to research involving human embryonic stem cells.

So it was with some surprise that we read a tacit endorsement of recent CIRM activities in an April 22 piece written by Gene Tame out of Sacramento. It said the most recent $32 million grant round from CIRM “demonstrates – again – where the future of stem cell reserch lies.”

Tame wrote,
“CIRM has been steadily moving away from its original mission to give preferential treatment to funding for human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR). Instead, after adopting a renewed emphasis on translating research into clinical trials, CIRM has more and more shifted the bulk of its grants towards funding research utilizing adult stem cells and other alternatives to hESCR, such as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).”
Tame continued,
“(T)he lack, once again, of funding for hESCR only serves to highlight how old and dated that approach to finding treatments and cures increasingly seems.”
Tame is correct in his assertion that the stem cell agency has moved a considerable distance from its reason for being – research involving human embryonic stem cells. In 2004, the ballot campaign to create the agency pitched voters hard on hESC research and made no real mention of adult stem cells. Instead, it focused on the threat from the Bush Administration with its restrictions on hESC research, which have been lifted by the Obama Administration. .

In 2010, a study by a Georgia Tech academic, Aaron Levine, reported that through 2009 only 18 percent of California's dollars went for grants that were "clearly" not eligible for federal funding under the Bush restrictions. 

At the date of the study, CIRM had not publicly disclosed statistics on its funding of hESC research.
Today, however, its web site shows that only about 240 of the 595 awards that it has handed out are going for hESC research. CIRM has not made public the dollar value of those 240 awards, but it has given away a total of $1.8 billion. (Following publication of this item, the agency told the California Stem Report that it has funded $458 million in hESC research.) 

A footnote: Levine was a member of the blue-ribbon Institute of Medicine panel that recommended sweeping changes at CIRM.  
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