October 1, 2022

Reality check for California stem cell initiative

Researchers hose down early optimism

Alan Trounson, CIRM PresidentHow long will it be before California’s US$3 billion stem cell
initiative produces cures for dread diseases? Five years? Ten years?
Keep guessing. The latest estimate is 25 years. Officials of the
California Institute for Regenerative Medicine are sounding distinctly
less upbeat than they did in the 2004 campaign to sell the idea to
voters. Some scientists now say that it could take decades for the
grants to pay off. Its new Australian president, Alan Trounson,
recently told the Boston Globe
that it’s too early to tell. "There are very few substantial
developments [in medical science] that have happened in less than 25
years. There have been some, but they tend to be rare."

Now that the
debate is no longer on the front page of newspapers, it now seems that
other "facts" in the great stem cell debate over the past five years
may have been manhandled. Take the brain drain. There were doleful
predictions that labs around the world would lose staff to California.
But it hasn’t happened. “I do not see a migration,” says Brock Reeve,
executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, in Boston.
Academics in the rival state of Massachusetts say that scientists
routinely move from one state to another. They even point out that one
prominent stem cell scientist, Kenneth Chien, left the University of
California, San Diego, and moved to Harvard. Although it has been
reported that well-known researchers have shifted to California, it
turns out that the real story is that they have opened satellite labs
there.

Nor has the initiative created many jobs yet. Tracy
Lefteroff, of PricewaterhouseCoopers, says that stem cell research will
create thousands of jobs – but that it will take at least another five
years. “I don’t think it has had that much of an impact yet.” ~ Boston
Globe, Feb 11