Monday, December 12, 2005

The Painful and Rocky California Stem Cell Experience

"A rocky year," "defensive," "a painful process" – some of the descriptions of the last year for the California stem cell agency.

They were contained in a front page story Saturday by reporter Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune, which circulates in one of the world's hottest hotbeds of stem cell research.

Somers is a biotech business reporter who has covered the agency since its inception. Here is how her piece began:

"In the 13 months since California voters approved spending $3 billion of their tax dollars on stem cell research, not a dime has gone to scientists.

"There have been 54 public meetings surrounding the start-up of the state's new Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Yet two of its most important policies and plans have not been established: a plan for how to handle ownership of discoveries resulting from institute-funded research and a scientific strategic plan, the cornerstone of the institute."

Here are some of the highlights of Somers' story:

"It's been a rocky year," said Dr. Leon Thal, a UCSD neuroscientist on the oversight committee. "I don't think some of us knew it would be quite as political as it has been."

"The (institute), for some reason, is coming from the position of being defensive all the time," said Dr. Jeannie Fontana, an advocate for patients with Lou Gehrig's disease who serves as an alternate member on the oversight committee."

"It's been a painful process at times," Fontana said(in a later quote). She said the oversight committee is much more complicated than other boards on which she serves and doesn't work as efficiently."

"I didn't realize how much administrative work had to be done in just setting up (the institute)," said Zach Hall, a neurobiologist serving as its president."

Our comments: Hall is a skilled, veteran and respected administrator as well as a respected scientist. As far as we can tell, he has a candid and gimlet-eyed view of agency's status.

But, speaking from the perspective of a person who has been involved in more than one start-up and studied them for years, we can say that few persons understand the difficulties involved in a creating a genuinely new enterprise of even the smallest size, unless they have been directly involved.

On another somewhat personal note, the start-up nature of CIRM was one of the motivations for creation of this blog. Going overnight from scratch to $300 million a year in a field fraught with complexities, cutting edge science, religion and politics and more offers, to put it mildly, a fertile field.

As for Somers' article and a similar overview, also on Saturday, by Andrew Pollack of the New York Times, they are the type of pieces that help shape public perspective on CIRM, for better or worse.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:24 PM

    Thanks for your blog site.. Does anyone know how trace mineras affect the production of stem cells???

    My friend Kay has some anstron sized ionic minerals that seem to help the cells I was wondering if they affect stem cells...

    The mineral info is on her web site at:

    If you can please tell me are the minerals good for stem cells?

    Walt Butler


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