Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Stem Cell Crossroads in California: The Viewpoint From USC

The University of Southern California, co-sponsor of a meeting this week in Los Angeles of 4,000 stem cell researchers and others, has offered up a perspective on its program and the crossroads facing California. 

The lengthy piece by Gary Polakovic captured more than the work being done USC, which has received $111 million in funding from the state stem cell agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). 

He touted the program at USC but also looked at the state of stem cell affairs in the Golden State.  

Keying off the annual meeting of International Society for Stem Cell Research, Polakovic, research communications manager at USC, wrote, 
"California has proven fertile soil for stem cell research. The state has assumed a leadership role in stem cell science since voters approved Proposition 71 in 2004, which seeded the industry with $3 billion in bond funds. The program is administered by CIRM, which contributes about 30 percent of USC stem cell funding."
The article continued, 
"With progress comes growing pains, and California’s stem cell program is at a crossroads.
"On one hand, gains in the lab have moved stem cell therapies closer to making a significant impact on medicine. Yet, the complexity and cost of cellular medicine has proven a big challenge. Scientists acknowledge it will be difficult to cure major diseases with stem cells. The gap between hype and hope has narrowed, but not closed.
"'Hype can be right, but it’s the time frame when people
Andrew McMahon, USC photo 
expect things to happen that can be wrong,' (Andrew) McMahon (director of the USC stem cell program) said. 'Curing cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other diseases is taking longer and involves a lot more complication and funding. The progress has been astounding — but it’s never fast enough.'"
Polakovic also tackled the difficult financial condition of the state stem cell agency. He wrote, 
"State funding for stem cell research under CIRM is expected to run out this year. The $3 billion ballot initiative that voters approved — Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act — is substantially depleted. Other sources, such as federal funding, private investment and philanthropy, are available but not necessarily dedicated to statewide research. CIRM funds have played a big role in creating and sustaining the USC stem cell initiative.
"Researchers are hopeful California voters will have an appetite to continue funding. Backers of Proposition 71 are planning a $5 billion measure for the November 2020 ballot. With research gains and clinical trials underway, backers are hopeful California will continue to support progress for another decade.
"Yet, voter perception of stem cells could be colored by rogue clinics peddling dubious wonder cures like snake oil. Those businesses operate outside the realm of leading research institutions such as USC. More than 100 such stem cell clinics operate in California alone. The Food and Drug Administration is stepping up enforcement actions against clinics offering unapproved stem cell products that endanger the public.
"At the same time, the momentum toward stem cell therapies at USC and other universities is undeniable. On the trail to finding breakthroughs for big diseases, basic research has unlocked a host of co-benefits — many unforeseen when California embarked on its stem cell program 15 years ago — that are valuable to medicine."
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