Monday, August 4, 2014

Adult Taking Charge

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s (CIRM) choice for its new head would have been unthinkable when the institute was first established almost 10 years ago.   Yet today, it seems fitting, given the direction stem cell research has taken over the same decade.

C. Randal Mills recently took over as CIRM’s new president.  Before taking his new post, Mills had been president and CEO of Osiris Therapeutics.  Osiris pursues therapies based on stem cell research, so in that regard, Mill’s appointment to head up CIRM would seem highly appropriate.

However, Osiris pursues non-embryonic, adult stem cell research, particularly with mesenchymal stem cells.  That why his appointment would have been so unthinkable at CIRM’s founding.

Apart from the federal government, CIRM is the nation’s largest funder of stem cell research.  As noted before in this blogspot, CIRM was established for the express purpose of giving priority funding for embryonic stem cell research and SCNT (i.e., cloning) over all other avenues of stem cell research.  And in its early years, CIRM did just that.  But over the years, more and more of CIRM’s grants have gone to support adult and other avenues of non-embryonic stem cell research such as induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) research.  So in this regard, Mill’s appointment to head CIRM today makes perfect sense.

Mills succeeds Alan Trounson as president of CIRM.  Trounson was an enthusiastic supporter of human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR), being one of the first Australian researchers to have isolated hESCs.  

In contrast, Mills has said he is “agnostic” when it comes to stem cell research, explaining that “for me, it is all about getting stem cell solutions to patients.”  In other words, Mills will not show any favoritism towards funding hESCR projects over non-embryonic stem cell research projects simply because they use embryonic stem cells; instead, funding will go to projects that have the greatest chance of “bringing treatments to patients, fast.”

In the context of CIRM’s founding mission to prioritize funding for hESCR, Mills’ apparent refusal to do so is remarkable.

It is, however an accurate reflection of how CIRM’s funding has been shifting over the years towards funding non-embryonic stem cell research projects.  In fact, it is an accurate reflection of how the whole field of regenerative medicine has shifted over the years.  Human embryonic stem cell research has completely failed to live up to the hype it generated after embryonic stem cells were first isolated in 1998. 

And no longer can proponents of hESCR fairly claim that it is the front-runner in the race to develop therapies for patients.  

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