Monday, May 02, 2016

'Paying for Miracles:' the Vatican and California's Stem Cell Research Program

California's $3 billion stem cell program owes its life to human embryonic stem cells. The state's research effort was created in 2004 to finance scientific inquiries involving such cells, long a matter a major controversy and banned at the time from federal funding by then President Bush.

Last week, Randy Mills, the president of the California agency, took part in a conference at the Vatican, which is adamantly opposed to hESC research as "gravely immoral" because it involves the destruction of embryos.

UC Davis stem cell researcher Paul Knoepfler wrote about the appearance on his Niche blog. He quoted Mills as saying,
“We are committed to accomplishing our mission of accelerating stem cell treatments to patients with unmet medical needs. We are encouraged that the Vatican is taking a leadership role by bringing together an outstanding collection of voices from the stem cell community to try to find common solutions to some very real problems. We are honored to participate.”
The California stem cell agency's position on adult stem cells has evolved over the years. In 2008, the agency fought an effort (see here and here) in the California legislature to make it easier for the agency to support adult stem cell research. The agency opposed the measure with Bob Klein, then chairman of the agency, indicating the move was attempt to sabotage the research program.

In 2010, an academic study showed 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. In 2013, the agency's web site showed that that about 240 of the 595 awards that it had handed out went for hESC research. At the time, such funding amounted to $458 million out of the $1.8 billion it had awarded.

Updates to the 2013 figures could not be found on the agency's web site as of this writing. We are querying the agency for fresh figures.

The Vatican conference last week involved theology as well as science. The topic of Mills' panel, however, was "a look at who is paying for miracles."

Mills also often says he is "agnostic" about the sorts of cells to be used to develop therapies. But "agnostic" is probably not a word that he used last week at the Vatican.
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