Thursday, November 05, 2015

George Bush, the California Stem Cell Agency and the Daily Beast: A Story for 20 Million Readers

The Daily Beast this morning carried a story with the headline “George W., Father of the Stem Cell Revolution.”

If that gives you pause, consider the Daily Beast’s next two paragraphs.
“It wasn’t what President George W. Bush had in mind. In 2001, Bush restricted the use of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, giving conservatives what looked like a major victory in the nation’s culture wars.
“Three years later California thumbed its nose at the ban by starting its own multi-billion dollar stem cell program, and several states followed suit. Even though the restrictions were lifted in 2009, the insurgent movement survived and grew.”
The article was authored by Guy Gugliotta, who writes on science and public policy. The piece appeared both on the Daily Beast, which claims more than 20 million readers a month, and Kaiser Healthline, which is also carried on the Daily Beast. The article offers a lesson in unintended consequences for those who thought the federal restrictions would crush research using human embryonic stem cells. Gugliotta said,
“Today at least seven states offer stem cell research funding or other incentives to local scientists and industry.” 
The article covered the scene in states across the country, but dealt in more detail with the $3 billion California stem cell agency. Quoted was Randy Mills, president of the agency, as well as yours truly. Gugliotta wrote,
“’Without George Bush, this agency would not exist,’ said David Jensen, publisher of California Stem Cell Report, a blog focused on the California institute.” 
Bush’s restrictions created the justification for California to march -- on its own -- into the wilderness of stem cell research 11 years ago this month. Absent Bush's actions, there would have been virtually no perceived need for the state to embark independently.  

Gugliotta recounted the history of the agency and summarized the issues that have come up since 2004. He wrote,
C. Randal Mills, chosen in 2014 as the institute’s new president and chief executive officer, said the organization is adjusting to ‘a world that has changed significantly’ since 2004 by moving away from simply funding good ideas in isolation to what he describes as a ‘system-based agency.’
“Last year the institute had 10 programs in clinical trials, but expects to have 20 by the end of this year.
“'We’re setting up continuous paths to move basic research to clinical trials,’ he added. ‘It’s like a train moving down a track, where each grant is the link to the next step down the line.’” 
Noting that President Obama has lifted the Bush restrictions, Gugliotta concluded,
“Despite the improved national (stem cell research) climate, states, both for economic and scientific reasons, have continued to fund their own programs. NIH lists initiatives in six states, not counting Minnesota, and other reports have suggested that as many as 15 states either have dedicated programs or fund stem cell research or did so in the past.
“Yet in a discipline that is just beginning to enter a translational phase, it is hard to evaluate the effectiveness of individual programs: ‘It’s a huge field, and it’s still early,’ said Heather Rooke, scientific director for the International Society for Stem Cell Research. “States will continue to do basic research, and California has certainly already had important influence driving the research to the clinic.’
“Results will take time, agreed Minnesota’s (Jakub) Tolar, but it is worth the trouble: ‘We started on drugs a hundred years ago. Then we went to monoclonal antibodies—biologicals,’ he said. ‘We are now getting ready to use cells as a third way of doing medicine. We are at a historical sweet spot.’”
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