Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Watch What I Do...

With its most recent round of grants – the first for 2013 – the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) continues its transformation from being one of the world’s leading funders of human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR) to one that increasingly supports non-embryonic research alternatives.

In March, CIRM awarded $32 million under three categories of awards.  No funding went to hESCR.  Instead, all of the funding was awarded to programs to promote research using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

A grant of $16 million was given to a program to produce 9,000 iPSC lines for use in research on various diseases.  This is in vivid contrast to a previous round of grants, in 2008, also to generate stem cell lines for research.  Then, 16 projects were selected for funding: eight projects were for generating hESCs (5 of these projects also involved iPSCs) while the other eight were for projects involving iPSCs alone.   Now, with this current round of grants, it appears CIRM no longer sees any value in the creation of new hESC lines.

Something similar occurs with another of the March grants, a $10 million award to create a bank to store, grow and make available iPSC lines to researchers. That CIRM has not done the same to establish a bank to house hESC lines would seem, again, to indicate that CIRM finds little value in doing so.  Indeed, as noted in a previous blog, one of the nation’s leading embryonic stem cell banks, the University of Massachusetts Stem Cell Bank, closed its doors in 2012, just four years after its creation was approved.  According to news reports, it had become “obsolete.” 

The remaining grant money was dispersed among 7 projects to produce disease specific iPSC lines.  This is an area where iPSCs have clearly proved their utility in helping to develop therapies, while regular adult stem cells are far ahead in terms of direct clinical use in patients.  Producing iPSCs from cells donated from a patient (a patient with diabetes, Parkinson’s or heart disease, for example) allows scientists to observe the origin and growth of that particular disease and to test drugs to treat it.

There is the old saying “Watch What I Do, Not What I Say.”

Proponents of hESCR can still talk a good game on the supposed ongoing “need” for hESCR.

But when it comes to actually doing the research that has the goal of producing cures and therapies, more and more researchers and institutions, such as CIRM, are turning to induced pluripotent and adult stem cell research and other non-embryonic alternatives.

 After all, talk is cheap, but research costs money and its supporters want results.

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