Monday, July 30, 2012

Zero Interest, No Withdrawals

In the classic musical comedy “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,”  the Roman slave Pseudolus tries to convince his master to free him by urging:  “Be the first, start a trend!”

Well, a funny thing has happened to those who started the trend toward that bright future of miracle cures from human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR).

As noted a number of times on this site, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) -- the nation’s largest funder of stem cell research, founded for the express purpose of supporting human embryonic stem cell research -- has in recent years been directing more and more of its grants to adult and other non-embryonic stem cell research projects… a clear sign that CIRM now sees adult stem cells and other alternatives as far more likely to provide therapeutic benefits for patients than embryonic stem cells..

And as noted in the previous blog, hESCR celebrity advocate Michael J. Fox recently conceded that a cure for his Parkinson’s will in all likelihood come from somewhere other than embryonic stem cells.

Now comes news that the University of Massachusetts Stem Cell Bank will close when it runs out of money at the end of the year.

The reason?  It’s become obsolete, the Boston Globe reports, citing state officials.

The bank was launched with much fanfare in 2008, with a $7.7 million dollar grant from the state government.

“It takes a few seconds to get a glimpse of the precious cargo loaded into the laboratory cooler that Dr. Gary Stein opens, mostly because of the frosty fog that billows out. Then the air clears, and boxes of samples come into view: human embryonic stem cells,” the (Worcester) Telegram-Gazette breathlessly began its report on the bank’s opening.

Like CIRM, the Massachusetts stem cell bank was established as a defiant response to President Bush’s policy of limited federal funding for hESCR.  Also like CIRM, its main emphasis was to be on human embryonic stem cells, in this case their storage and maintenance. 

“Originally, the bank was seen as a repository for embryonic stem cell lines that were being created but were not eligible for federal funding under Bush-era restrictions,” the Globe reports.  The Globe further notes that the bank was “a marquee piece of Governor Deval Patrick’s effort to bolster the life sciences industry” in Massachusetts. 

But today?  Citing Terence Flotte, dean of UMass Medical School, “the bank receives one to two requests a week,” the Globe reports. 

Susan Windham-Bannister, president of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, said the bank was “absolutely state of the art” when it first opened.

But if the number of weekly requests just cited is any indicator, today the bank is closing due to a pronounced indifference to what it has to offer – human embryonic stem cell lines. 

Zero interest, no withdrawals.

CIRM, Michael J Fox and now the University of Massachusetts Stem Cell Bank, all rethinking and moving away from hESCR or even closing altogether.

Starting a trend?

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