In the election last November, California voters approved $5.5 billion in funding for stem-cell and other medical research — throwing a lifeline to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Is this good news for stem cell research and regenerative medicine? Stem cell doctors are split on the development — and what it means for stem cell therapy in general.
Scientists and stem cell doctors disagree on whether the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) in Oakland is a smart investment for the State of California, not to mention the field of stem-cell science.
Passed on Nov. 12 after more than a week of vote counting, Proposition 14 authorizes new funds for CIRM — paid for by a state bond sale.
No Clear Consensus Among Stem Cell Doctors
But the passed measure is controversial, particularly among stem cell doctors in the regenerative medicine community, because the company itself is controversial.
“But critics of CIRM are concerned about oversight at the state agency, which has faced complaints about potential conflicts of interest among its board members for years. They also point out that the field has grown and now receives federal support, making state funding hard to justify — especially amid a pandemic that has imperiled California’s economy.”
“Unfortunately, Proposition 14 sets a bad example for the use of public money for the advancement of science,” says Zach Hall, a neurobiologist and stem cell doctor who led CIRM as its first president between 2005 and 2007.
“As scientists, everybody always welcomes additional funding,” says Arlene Chiu, former director of scientific activities at CIRM. “But as a Californian, one wonders if there are better ways to do this.”
What is CIRM?
Launched 16 years ago, CIRM has reportedly managed to draw top researchers to the state — including the country’s foremost stem cell doctors. But the research firm’s original $3 billion in state money began running out last year. The company pushed for new funding in the form of Proposition 14.
“It is extraordinary that the patient-advocacy groups and the medical societies and the scientific societies have been able to act as a single coalition to reach millions of California voters,” says California property developer Robert Klein — an advocate for stem-cell research after his son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and the agency’s original backer. Klein co-wrote the 2004 ballot measure that launched the agency. He served as the institute’s founding chair until 2011.
Some Stem Cell Doctors on Board with New Funding
Some scientists and stem cell doctors are excited the proposal passed.
“It is very exciting that Prop. 14 passed and that CIRM will continue its funding,” Cato Laurencin, a biomedical engineer at the University of Connecticut in Farmington, tells Nature. “This field is at a bit of an inflection point in terms of our understanding of stem-cell science.”
Californians will pay $260 million annually for the Proposition for the next 30 years. Much of the funding will pay for training scientists and the construction of new facilities.
Nevertheless, the agency has been mired in ethics controversies.
“There were too many cases in which the ethics were strained to the limit, “Jeanne Loring, a geneticist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, who has received more than $22 million as a principal investigator on CIRM projects, tells Nature.
Others Not So Sure
Others suggest that the proposition isn’t relevant with the current state of stem cell funding.
“… Former CIRM president Hall says that Proposition 14 doesn’t describe a clear scientific vision or take into account how the field has been transformed since 2004. For one thing, in 2009, president Barack Obama removed restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research. In 2019, the US National Institutes of Health handed out more than $2 billion for stem-cell research. ‘You could argue that California would do better, economically and scientifically, to have a CRISPR institute,’ Hall says, arguing that the revolutionary precision gene-editing tool is better placed to benefit from such a huge infusion of cash.”
The Encouraging Potential of Stem Cell Therapy
We suppose any funding infusion is ultimately good for the science of stem cells and regenerative medicine, even if the specifics could perhaps have been better applied. It will ultimately help us understand how stem cell therapy works. What we do know is that stem cell therapy can be incredibly effective at treating knee pain, lower back pain, and other athletic ailments.
If you would like more information about how stem cell therapy works, contact our offices in Cincinnati or New York for a health and wellness appointment. Dr. Blatman is a stem cell doctor offering stem cell injections to treat numerous ailments and conditions.