July 2, 2022

New York axes stem cell funding in this year’s budget

Scientists are disappointed

In 2007, defying the “conservatism” of the Bush Administration, New York State created a fund for research on stem cells, including human embryonic stem cells. The New York State Stem Cell Science program (NYSTEM) was smaller than California’s US$3 billion program, but still substantial, at $600 million over 11 years.

However, it has been quietly dropped in the State’s current budget.

“NYSTEM funded a lot of important work that would not have happened otherwise,” says stem cell researcher Sean Morrison of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas. The termination of the program is a setback for New York state and for the field of stem cell biology as whole.”

According to Science, “Researchers expect the termination to be especially harmful to the study of human embryonic stem cells.”

However, the program has experienced serious problems in recent years and has only distributed $400 million so far.

In 2016, its board stopped meeting and reporting expenditures on its website, and since then awards have been inexplicably delayed: Researchers who applied in 2016 say they received money only in 2018 after several meetings in the governor’s office. And those who applied for last year’s grants—which were expected to support up to 70 projects with $50 million over 3 years—say they never received any official response.

Perhaps the State’s budget is just too tight in the Covid-19 era. A government official told Science that stem cell science should “advance within academic and private research communities rather than the Department of Health, which is focused on its core mission of delivering direct services and achieving positive health outcomes for all New Yorkers.”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge  

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