California’s stem cell institute may close doors


The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has announced that it can no longer accept grant applications. There is no more money in the cookie jar.

The CIRM was set up in 2004 after 59% of California voters approved a US$3 billion bond issue to support human embryonic stem cell research. The victory for supporters of the CIRM came after a long and bruising battle over the ethics and effectiveness of doing research on human embryos.

As it turned out, critics of human embryonic stem cell research were right. Nearly all of the progress came from adult stem cell research and induced pluripotent stem cells, which were serendipitously discovered in 2006.

According to Science, the CIRM has been unsuccessful in seeking $200 million in bridge funding from private sources. Its supporters, led by a true believer from the 2004 campaign, hope to place a $5.5 billion bond initiative on the 2020 ballot. There is no guarantee that it will be approved. The cures which a range of celebrity and scientific boosters promised with their hands on their hearts have not materialised.

Jeanne Loring, recently retired from the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, told Science that the CIRM had made California the “center of the stem cell universe. It would be tragic to unravel [that infrastructure] now. But the funding in 2004 was so dependent on the politics and interest at the time, and I don’t know if those circumstances can be replicated.”  

There must be few topics in science capable of provoking such violent and disparate reactions as the CIRM. Bioethics journalist Wesley Smith says that he will not mourn its passing of the CIRM:

California is in worse shape now than it was in 2004. Thousands of people are living in tents on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles. There is an epidemic of human feces and used hypodermic needles fouling the streets of San Francisco, so bad there is even a map to warn people where the excrement can be found. Victor Davis Hanson has sadly documented the plunge, calling California the USA’s “first Third World state.”

I think voters should shut this special interest boondoggle down. But if Californians — I was one in 2004, but no longer am — want to go even deeper into debt as a state in order to keep the CIRM in the chips, that is their call. If they do, it seems to me that this is a case of fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge




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