Tuesday, December 10, 2013

California Stem Cell Researchers Fight for Shared Labs

Twenty California stem cell scientists are seeking to save the state's heralded, $72 million “shared” stem cell lab program, arguing that it is vital to research and necessary for the continued training of scientists.

The researchers made their appeal in a letter (full text below) expected to be presented tomorrow to the governing board of the $3 billion stem cell agency, which funds the effort. The agency's new Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) has recommended the program be discontinued and more emphasis placed on a handful of clinically oriented projects.

In a very brief recommendation that has been accepted by CIRM staff,  the advisory board said that “the importance of these resources to the mission of CIRM and achieving sustainability of earlier investments is not as compelling (as when the program began).

The SAB continued,
“These resources should operate on a revenue-neutral basis through recharge mechanisms and gain other needed support from the host institutions.” 
The lab program began as a $50.5 million effort in 2007 and was given an additional $21.5 million in 2011 after CIRM staff cited its "exceptional" performance. Former CIRM Chairman Robert Klein praised the effort, citing its ability to leverage funding. He said,
“The $4 million awarded, for example, to Stanford for its shared lab have enabled its scientists to successfully compete for $35 million of grants from numerous sources, with another $15 million in process.”
Responding to the SAB recommendation, supporters of the labs said that without them, “development of protocols for generation of clinically needed cell types will not be possible.” Their letter said the 17 labs have been “vital to current and future CIRM-funded efforts.” There is “no alternative place' for the type of research underway at the labs, said the scientists.

The researchers signing the letter were from institutions throughout the state, including UCSF, Stanford, UC Berkeley, USC, UCLA, Salk, Scripps, Sanford Burnham, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara.

The letter, which was made available to the California Stem Cell Report,  said,
“In the worst case scenario, the loss of indirect cost support to the institutions will mean that the core lab space will be reallocated (a certainty for many independent research institutes), effectively dismantling the Shared Laboratories and putting CIRM equipment into storage. Shared Laboratory personnel provide support not only for the millions of dollars of CIRM purchased equipment, but often also the additional equipment that has been funded by other sources as a result of the CIRM infrastructure investment but often also the additional equipment that has been funded by other sources.... 
“Even in the best cases, there will be no means to support the staff and maintain the equipment. Some institutions may be able to provide space without indirect costs, but will not fund personnel and equipment maintenance. Thus, the original CIRM investment in infrastructure will be lost, and CIRM’s highly successful training programs for new workers (CIRM Bridges and Training Grants), will be left without homes.”
Here is the full text of the letter and a summary of survey of activity at the shared labs.

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