Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Stem Cell Researchers 'Uneasy" in California

The prestigious journal Nature today said that asking California voters for more billions for stem cell research in a few years "may strike residents as a luxury that they can ill afford."

The comment came in a piece by Erika Check Hayden dealing with the future of the California stem cell agency, which is expected to run out of money for new grants in about 2017. She wrote,
"Given that California is facing severe budget shortfalls, several billion dollars more for stem-cell science may strike residents as a luxury that they can ill afford. It may also prove difficult for CIRM’s supporters to point to any treatments that have emerged from the state’s investment. So far, the agency has funded only one clinical trial using embryonic stem cells, and that was halted by its sponsor, Geron of Menlo Park, California, last November.

"Yet the institute has spent just over $1 billion on new buildings and labs, basic research, training and translational research, often for projects that scientists say are crucial and would be difficult to get funded any other way. So the prospect of a future without CIRM is provoking unease. 'It would be a very different landscape if CIRM were not around,' says Howard Chang, a dermatologist and genome scientist at Stanford University in California."
Chang was a scheduled witness recently at a public meeting in California of the blue-ribbon Institute of Medicine panel examining the performance of the Golden State's $3 billion stem cell research effort. Chang is the recipient of $3.2 million in CIRM funding. Hayden wrote,
"Chang has a CIRM grant to examine epigenetics in human embryonic stem cells, and is part of another CIRM-funded team that is preparing a developmental regulatory protein for use as a regenerative therapy. Both projects would be difficult to continue without the agency, he says. Federal funding for research using human embryonic stem cells remains controversial, and could dry up altogether after the next presidential election (see Nature 481, 421–423; 2012). And neither of Chang’s other funders — the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland — supports his interdisciplinary translational work. Irina Conboy, a stem-cell engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, who draws half of her lab’s funding from CIRM, agrees that in supporting work that has specific clinical goals, the agency occupies a niche that will not easily be filled by basic-research funders. 'The NIH might say that the work does not have a strong theoretical component, so you’re not learning anything new,' she says."
Conboy was also a scheduled witness at the IOM hearing. She holds $2.2 million in CIRM grants.


  1. Jim Fossett1:55 PM

    It should also be noted, in case anybody missed it, that Newt Gingrich wants to ban hESC research altogether and the other Republican candidates want to roll back the Obama administrations revised rules on hESC funding by NIH. Mitt Romney was not a big hESC fan when he was Governor of Massachusetts either. CIRM may be the only game in town if the Republicans re-take the White House this year.

  2. Thanks, Jim, for your comment. However, I doubt the Republicans will be able to carry the day next fall, given their current state of disarray and shenanigans. Plus Romney has plenty of baggage that is likely to surface in a different way in a general election. I should also note that hESC research, the only reason voters approved creation of the California stem cell agency, represents less than $450 million of the agency's current $1.2 billion in grants. See http://www.cirm.ca.gov/about-cirm/stem-cell-research-funding-overview


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