California Stem-cell Institute Makes First Development Grants

(Stem Cells News image)

Five years after the passage of Proposition 71, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is awarding grants for stem-cell research targeted at clinical applications. In what both the San Diego Union-Tribune and Knight Science Journalism Tracker are calling an “irony,” ten of the 14 grants are going to researchers working with adult stem-cells.

On Thursday, October 29, the New York Times reported: “In a tacit acknowledgment that the promise of human embryonic stem cells is still far in the future, California’s stem cell research program on Wednesday awarded grants intended to develop therapies using mainly other, less controversial cells.

“The $230 million in grants awarded Wednesday to California universities and companies represent a big step toward moving stem cells from basic research toward application in treating diseases like cancer and AIDS. Grant recipients are supposed to have a therapy ready for initial human testing in four years.

“But only four of the 14 projects involve embryonic stem cells. The others will use so-called adult stem cells or conventional drugs intended to kill cancer stem cells, which are thought to give rise to tumors.

“The grants thus represent a departure from the program’s original mission. California voters approved the 10-year, $3 billion effort in 2004 largely to get around restrictions on embryonic stem cell research imposed by the administration of President George W. Bush.”

The San Francisco Chronicle covered the story as well:

“Most of the projects approved Wednesday do not involve embryonic stem cells, but researchers said that even now, after years of study and under a new administration, funding for all kinds of stem cell research is difficult to secure.

“There is a very serious shortage for all stem-cell research,” said Dr. Irving Weissman, director of Stanford University’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. The state agency “allows us to do research that the federal government won’t fund.”

Other adult stem-cell developers are not waiting around for government funding, however. On the same day the CIRM announced its grants, the Associated Press reported:

“Stem cell drug developer Aldagen Inc. on Wednesday filed a registration for a planned initial public offering, and valued the potential IPO at $80.5 million.

“The Durham, N.C., company is testing a variety of treatments made with adult stem cells, including drugs designed to improve therapies for metabolic disease and drugs that treat blocked blood vessels….After the IPO, its shares will trade on the Nasdaq Global Market under the symbol “ALDH.”

There is another irony to this story. While treatments using adult stem cells are showing remarkable results worldwide, most of these treatments are not available in the U.S. Right now, the greatest impediment to the accessibility of adult stem-cell treatments may be the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has classed a person’s own stem cells, taken from a person’s own body and multiplied, as a drug. This action caused some American doctors to form a group called the American Stem Cell Therapy Association. The group opposes the FDA’s position that adult stem cells are a “drug,” and thus must be regulated as such. “The FDA’s position against someone using their own stem cells is taking it too far,” said Dr. Frank Falco, a group member (…)

The Morning Sun continued: “Justin and his father both believe that the procedure Justin will receive next month, which uses solely adult stem cells taken from his own body, should be legalized in the U.S. ‘The politicians in this country are putting us back in the stone age,’ Chester (Pryor) said. “The stem cells Justin is going to receive in Germany are going to come from his own body. Now you tell me why the politicians here will not allow that in this country.’”


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