Thursday, August 25, 2005

The California Stem Cell Gorilla

Who really needs President Bush? That's the question posed by Ronald Bailey, author and science correspondent for the libertarian magazine, Reason.

Writing on the Reason web site, he provides an up-to-date overview of stem cell funding in the wake of Bush's restrictions on stem cell research. Bailey notes that the Golden State will be outspending entire countries, including the South Korean effort that has received so much notice.

"So far four states have put taxpayer dollars behind human embryonic stem-cell research," Bailey reports. "The 800 pound gorilla in the stem cell funding arena is California. Last November, California voters passed $3 billion initiative that created the new California Institute of Regenerative Medicine that aims to fund stem-cell research at $300 million annually for the next ten years. That is more than 12 times higher than current federal funding. California will not only be outspending the U.S. Federal government; it will be trouncing whole countries on stem-cell research funding. For example, the United Kingdom has plans to spend $175 million per year on stem-cell research. In 2002, the Australian government awarded the Australia Stem Cell Centre with $43.55 million over four years. And the research of South Korean scientists who have recently been making breakthroughs in cloning human embryonic stem cells has been supported by about $11 million in government grants."

Bailey runs down the list of states considering or funding stem cell research, moving on to private efforts.

"For example, the Starr Foundation is providing $50 million over three years for human embryonic stem-cell research at three New York City medical institutions, including the Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center. The Harvard University Stem Cell Institute is seeking $100 million in private funding. The University of California, Los Angeles announced the establishment of its Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine with $20 million in funding over the next 5 years. Stanford University announced the creation of $120 million Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine in 2002. Former Intel CEO Andy Grove gave the University of California in San Francisco a matching grant of $5 million to start its Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program. In 2001, an anonymous donor gave Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore a $58.5 million gift to launch an Institute for Cell Engineering. The University of Minnesota has set up a Stem Cell Institute with a $15 million capital grant. In 2004, an a grateful patient pledged $25 million over the next ten years to finance stem-cell research at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston."

"Given all of these sources of funding for stem-cell research, it's a real question whether or not researchers need the Feds at this point. And one more deliciously ironic thought: It's just possible that, by imposing his funding restrictions and spurring so many independent initiatives, President Bush has actually caused the creation of more embryonic stem cell lines than would have been produced with federal funding."

Bailey is more cautious than I would be in describing the impact of Bush's move. He elevated awareness of the issue with his ideological decision and galvanized the stem cell community. Without Bush's help, California stem cell chairman Robert Klein would not be sitting today in his red brick offices in Emeryville, CA.

(Bailey's book, "Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution" is available from Prometheus Books.)

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