Monday, October 05, 2020

Proposition 14: Pros and Cons of Stem Cell Research in California 2020

Editor's note: The author of this piece is Ben Kaplan of Palo Alto, who appeared in a TV ad for the 2004 ballot measure that created the California stem cell agency. I talked with him recently by phone and invited him to submit his thoughts on the latest stem cell ballot measure, Proposition 14. Here is his article. 
By Ben Kaplan

Ben Kaplan
My story begins when my twin brother Ollie and I were born ten weeks prematurely. Despite his early birth and low birth weight, Ollie never had any lasting health problems, but I did. Just five days after my birth, I had a brain hemorrhage, or stroke, which caused cerebral palsy, specifically “left hemiplegia,” or weakness and paralysis on the left side of my body. I have been a supporter of stem cell research and regenerative medicine for over 20 years, with the hope it may lead to new treatment for my condition. During this time, I have seen research make great strides, from initially being conducted mostly in laboratory studies, to its application in human clinical trials.

California has been a trailblazer in state ballot initiatives for over 40 years. These have set national trends for issues and are often copied or emulated by other states: Prop 13 (property taxation), Prop 187 (Immigration), 209 (Affirmative Action) 215 (medical cannabis), 227 (bilingual education), etc. Proposition 71 in 2004 did this for stem cell research by establishing the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Since then, several other states have passed their own ballot initiatives or legislation to fund stem cell research. This has created new momentum for increased federal funding.

Another benefit of CIRM funding is the development of private and philanthropic partnerships. The demonstration of a commitment by California to fund and support research and laboratory construction has led private foundations and other donors to contribute funds, dramatically accelerating the pace of stem cell research. The investment in research following the passage of Prop 71 also attracted researchers, scientists and private companies to California, providing financial incentives to open offices and laboratories in the state. In addition, CIRM created a research infrastructure for California by developing a system to award grants and share research data and results, giving it a major advantage over other states, and some countries. These partnerships are important because embryonic stem cell research cannot always be conducted in facilities built using federal funds due to pro-life and taxpayer groups, who have raised ethical and fiscal concerns about using public funding for research on embryonic tissue. CIRM research centers are a way around this roadblock by increasing scientific freedom, promoting research collaboration and hastening the development of new therapies and treatments.

In addition, CIRM has created economic expansion, providing a major boost to the burgeoning field of regenerative medicine. Progress in research funded by CIRM has led to a growing body of scientific evidence that treatments from stem cells may be available to people with debilitating and life-threatening conditions in the near future.

Stem cell research funding is on the ballot in California in 2020 as Proposition 14. This proposition has both potential benefits and drawbacks. One argument in favor is that it will continue and enhance California’s leadership position in support of stem cell research. It can also boost the state’s economy. Treatments may lower healthcare costs and improve health, which may lead to increased employment, worker productivity and economic growth. While the long-term outcome of stem cell research remains uncertain, new discoveries are producing evidence that is leading to clinical trials, allowing treatments to move closer to realization.

However, the COVID19 outbreak has also made Proposition 14’s fate uncertain. While stem cell research may lead to new treatments, it has placed unanticipated stress on California’s budget. However, new research is demonstrating the potential application of stem cells as a possible treatment for the virus. Given this pandemic, how will Proposition 14 fare? While the ultimate outcome is yet to be determined, it may depend on a delicate balance between potential treatment outcomes in the future versus expenses for the COVID19 pandemic in the present.

Recently, physicians at Stanford University, in a clinical trial partially funded by CIRM, have found that neural stem cells injected in rats with a condition similar to CP will travel to the damaged part of the brain and repair it. A clinical trial is also currently in progress at the Mayo Clinic using neural stem cells derived from bone marrow to treat hemorrhagic stroke. Private companies are pursuing similar research, with an eye to developing new therapies and treatments.

As stem cell science progresses and it becomes possible to implant stem cells into the brain, it is possible that I could have improved mobility in my left hand and foot, balance and coordination. This would enable me to do so many things that are now challenging, if not impossible, and would greatly improve and enhance my quality of life and that of many others.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for an informative article.People need to clearly understand the proposition. I support stem cell research.


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