Friday, August 27, 2010

What the embryonic stem cell research ban means to California researchers

On Monday federal judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research impermissible under current laws. This decision had the immediate effect of shutting down the ability of the NIH to fund research using human embryonic stem cells, a result that NIH Director Francis Collins likened to pouring sand in the engine of discovery.

California is in a better position than other states. When Californians voted for proposition 71, they created a stable source of funding for all forms of stem cell research. To date, 65 percent of CIRM’s research grants support work with human embryonic stem cells — work that will continue despite changes in federal policy.

But that doesn’t mean California scientists are entirely insulated, as a recent survey of CIRM grantees makes clear. Collaborations with colleagues throughout the country will stutter and California projects using federal money and not funded by CIRM will be on pause. Collins’ engine of discovery will be running on only one cylinder — the California cylinder. Progress won’t stop, but it could take a lot longer to reach the final destination of new therapies without those other cylinders firing.

Preliminary results from the CIRM survey show the impact of the federal restrictions on researchers in this state. Of the first 100 respondents, 22% said they had NIH funding for embryonic stem cell research and only 5% of grantees said the ruling would make no difference to their overall research strategy. Also 65% of grantees that had NIH support said that if the NIH freeze holds they’ll need to reduce or eliminate positions in their labs.

Here’s a link to the preliminary survey results. We’ll be updating this link to provide updated results.

The most telling finding from the CIRM survey was that 76% of grantees said the funding freeze would impact their ability to carry out research with adult, cancer, or iPS stem cells. This point is critical, and is one that’s often overlooked. Research with other stem cell types relies on information gained from embryonic stem cells. All of this critical work toward new therapies will be slowed.

One anonymous survey respondent wrote:
The sheer breadth and depth of research that is required to convert the potential of stem cell research into reality can only be facilitated by Federal funding. For this to be derailed, even temporarily, on a dubious legal basis that seeks to overturn a previous Presidential order does disservice to the millions of people living with injuries or disease states that could benefit from such research.

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