Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The California Stem Cell Effort -- $3 Billion, $6 Billion or $9 Billion?

Many persons know that the true cost of California's stem cell research effort runs closer to $6 billion rather than the $3 billion figure normally bandied about.

What if the cost were boosted to about $9 billion because of wasted research that cannot be replicated?

That's a question that comes up as the result of a piece yesterday on Slate, an online news site. The headline on the article by award-winning science writer Daniel Engber said,
"There's a replication crisis in biomedicine -- and no one even knows how deep it runs."
The Slate piece cited a $28 billion figure nationally for the amount of preclinical, biomedical research that cannot be reproduced and thus represents money wasted. The estimate was produced last June by two economists. They analyzed previous studies to come up with the dollar figure, calculating that 50 percent of the research they examined could not be replicated.

Engber's article also dealt with work by the Reproducibility Project for Cancer Biology.  He wrote,
"For some experiments, the original materials could not be shared, red tape notwithstanding, because they were simply gone or corrupted in some way. That meant the replicating labs would have to recreate the materials themselves—an arduous undertaking. (Elizabeth) Iorns (a member of the project team) said one experiment
Elizabeth Iorns, Science Exchange photo
called for the creation of a quadruple-transgenic mouse, i.e. one with its genome modified in four specific ways. 'It would take literally years and years to produce them,' she said. 'We decided that it was not going to happen.'
"Then there’s the fact that the heads of many labs have little sense of how, exactly, their own experiments were carried out. In many cases, a graduate student or post-doc did most of the work, and then moved on to another institution. To reconstruct the research, then, someone had to excavate and analyze the former student or post-doc’s notes—a frustrating, time-consuming task. 'A lot of time we don’t know what reagents the original lab used,' said Tim Errington, the project’s manager, 'and the original lab doesn’t know, either.'"
The increasing attention to the replication problem has definite implications for the California's stem cell research effort, which has had difficulty getting industry to pick up its research and move it into widespread use. 

The agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine(CIRM), has embarked on a unique, $150 million effort to entice industry into advancing the Golden State findings. One of the agency's lures will allow its business partner to cherry pick the agency's research and lock up its selections for commercial use. 

But if 50 percent of CIRM's research can't be replicated, the agency may not be actually offering very much. 

As for CIRM's costs, it survives only on money that the state borrows (bonds). The $3 billion it will disperse carries interest costs that make the total bill roughly $6 billion, not counting non-replication waste. CIRM is slated to run out of cash in about four years. 

Seventy-eight comments have been filed on the Slate story, which is part of a collaboration called Future Tense that involves Arizona State University, New America and Slate. Tomorrow Future Tense will hold an event in Washington, D.C., on the reproducibility crisis in biomedicine.  The conference is called "Trust But Verify." Here is a link to the agenda. 
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1 comment:

  1. Comment from CIRM board Francisco Prieto, posted by David Jensen, on Prieto's behalf. Prieto said in an email,
    "SOME research can't be replicated (or more accurately, isn't likely to be because of the effort involved), but this strikes me as a highly speculative and therefore very nebulous number. The most critical research I think is likely to be replicated, because scientists want to either disprove it, or prove it and build on it."