California also turns towards reprogramming

The Harvard Stem Cell Institute is not the only research centre to have changed its tune lately. A close examination of press releases from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine reveals that the penny has finally dropped on the Pacific side of the US as well.

Until August, all press releases from the CIRM described it as “the largest source of funding for human embryonic stem cell research in the world”. In January it scolded President Bush for not realising that “human embryonic stem cells clearly remain the gold standard for research into pluripotent cells". It firmly squelched hopes about reprogramming: “it will not, for the foreseeable future, be suitable for clinical studies in human because of safety concerns”.

In May it stated that it was funding new facilities to allow human embryonic stem cell research “and other stem cell approaches”.

The latest press release, dated August 13, however, contains a small but significant change in the CIRM’s self-description: “the largest source of funding for embryonic and pluripotent stem cell research in the world”. It appears that the CIRM’s love affair with slow, inefficient, expensive, ethically fraught and legally complex human embryonic stem cells may be drawing to a close. In the very near future the CIRM could be boasting that it is the “the largest source of funding for pluripotent stem cell research in the world, as well as other stem cell approaches”.

However, a divorce is unlikely to hit the headlines. If the way ahead is reprogrammed pluripotent cells, the CIRM – which will cost US$6 billion including interest -- was created for nothing. The Federal government would have funded the research anyway because there are no significant ethical issues with reprogrammed cells. Californian taxpayers will have spent US$6 billion on a white elephant. It’s not something that belongs at the top of a press release.

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