Tuesday, September 18, 2018

California's Stem Cell Agency Says It Has Saved Lives and Is Building a Foundation to Save More

Evie Vaccaro, whose life was saved with research backed by the stem cell agency
California's $3 billion stem cell agency took its message this week to the op-ed pages of the
San Francisco Chronicle, declaring that the agency's efforts have saved lives and created a world class network of clinics to develop therapies for all.

Maria Millan, CEO of the agency, and Jonathan Thomas, chairman of its board, said in an op-ed article,
"Have we achieved all we wanted to? Of course not. The first decade of CIRM’s life was laying the groundwork, developing the knowledge and expertise, and refining processes so that we can truly accelerate progress. As a leader in this burgeoning field of regenerative medicine, CIRM needs to continue its mission of accelerating stem cell treatments to patients with unmet medical needs."
The Millan-Thomas article came in the wake of a Chronicle editorial that said the agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), did not merit additional funding based on its results to date. The Chronicle also carried a lengthy news piece that concluded the agency has not met the expectations of voters who created it through a ballot initiative in 2004. 

The agency expects to run out of cash for new awards at the end of next year. Its hope for survival lie with a yet-to-written bond measure that would appear on the November 2020 ballot. 

Millan and Thomas said the agency is now backing 49 clinical trials and has a host of accomplishments. They said, 
"Today the therapies resulting from the institute’s work are not just changing lives — they are already saving lives.
"Lives like Evie Vaccaro, who is alive today because of a treatment CIRM is funding. Vaccaro was born with SCID, also known as “bubble baby disease,” an immune disorder that often kills babies in their first two years. Vaccaro, now 6, and dozens of other babies were given stem cell treatments thanks to the institute. All are showing improvement; some are now several years past treatment and considered cured. 
"An accident left Jake Javier from Danville paralyzed from the chest down on the eve of his high school graduation. Javier was treated in a CIRM-funded clinical trial. Today, he has regained the use of his arms and hands, is driving a car and is a sophomore at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Five other patients treated at the same time as Javier all have experienced improvements meaning that instead of needing round-the-clock care, they can lead independent lives."

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