Nov. 1, 2009
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the quango spending $3 billion of California taxpayers' money (and paying back $6 billion with the interest) on stem cell research, seems to have realized the distinct advantages of adult stem cells over embryonic stem cells, especially when it comes actually to treating patients. The CIRM has awarded over $230 million in "disease team" grants to 14 different projects; the 4-year grants are "explicitly expected to result in a filing with the FDA to begin a clinical trial."
But only 4 of the 14 funded grants involve embryonic stem cells, and none involve cloned embryos (somatic cell nuclear transfer, SCNT.) This despite the fact that the primary focus of CIRM and the reason for passage of Prop 71 in 2004 was to be embryonic stem cells, including those from cloned human embryos. Maybe they're finally taking literally that part of Prop 71 about "stem cell research that has the greatest potential for therapies and cures":
Maximize the use of research funds by giving priority to stem cell research that has the greatest potential for therapies and cures, specifically focused on pluripotent stem cell and progenitor cell research among other vital research opportunities that cannot, or are unlikely to, receive timely or sufficient federal funding, unencumbered by limitations that would impede the research.
The term "vital research opportunities" is their way out in this case, but also means that to fund these adult stem cell research projects, they had to get a two-thirds vote of the committee, according to Prop 71.
As an aside, note how they describe the sources of pluripotent stem cells, from Section 5:
Pluripotent stem cells may be derived from somatic cell nuclear transfer or from surplus products of in vitro fertilization treatments when such products are donated under appropriate informed consent procedures.
By the way, the biologically-accurate term for those "surplus products" is "embryos", and the only way to derive stem cells from somatic cell nuclear transfer is first to create the cloned embryo, then extract the stem cells.
A list of the grants with links to abstracts, as well as the complete list of applications including those not funded is available.
Here are some of the media's statements taking notice of the California Dreamin'. Enjoy.
In a tacit acknowledgment that the promise of human embryonic stem cells is still far in the future, Californias stem cell research program on Wednesday awarded grants intended to develop therapies using mainly other, less controversial cells.
But only 4 of the 14 projects involve embryonic stem cells. The others will use so-called adult stem cells or conventional drugs intended to kill cancer stem cells, which are thought to give rise to tumors.
The grants thus represent a departure from the programs original mission. California voters approved the 10-year, $3 billion effort in 2004 largely to get around restrictions on embryonic stem cell research imposed by the administration of President George W. Bush.
Leaders of the California program say that what voters really care about are treatments for diseases, not what cell type is used. They say that from the outset the program was not restricted to the embryonic cells. The commitment to voters was to pursue the very best cell type for each disease, said Robert N. Klein, the chairman of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the agency that runs the program.
One irony of the latest grants is that much of the work they support does not involve human embryonic stem cells, a contentious area because it requires the destruction of embryos. Bush administration funding restrictions on that work were a big reason the California institute was launched to begin with, but many of the current projects use less-controversial adult stem cells.
Institute Chairman Robert Klein said about a third of the projects involve embryonic stem cells. He said the institute planned all along to support a variety of approaches and was simply funding scientists with the most promising lines of attack in each disease.
Only a handful will employ human embryonic stem cells, despite the fact that most of the fanfare surrounding the passage of Proposition 71, the ballot measure that created CIRM, concerned the fact that CIRM would fill the gap left by a lack of federal funding for work on these cells. But Bob Klein, architect of Proposition 71 and chair of CIRM's governing board, said, "Our commitment to the voters was that we would pursue the very best cell type for each disease based on the scientific and clinical evidence."
Most of the projects approved Wednesday do not involve embryonic stem cells, but researchers said that even now, after years of study and under a new administration, funding for all kinds of stem cell research is difficult to secure.
"There is a very serious shortage for all stem cell research," said Dr. Irving Weissman, director of Stanford University's Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. The state agency "allows us to do research that the federal government won't fund."
In something of an irony, little of it is going to the reason the institute exists to work with human embryonic stem cells.