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Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Year in The Life of California’s Stem Cell Research Program

This is a continuation of an article titled “A Year in The Life of California’s Stem Cell Research Program” written by Don C. Reed, Sponsor of Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act, Founder and Co-Chair of Californians for Cures, and Vice President of Public Policy for Americans for Cures Foundation.

MODEL FOR THE COUNTRY

Look at the path that CIRM has laid down for cure: educating and supporting scientists, helping train their support staff, setting up loans for the companies that will risk so much to develop products for patients… this is something which should be shared, and imitated.

COMMUNICATION:

Next ICOC meeting you go to, look for a crew-cut, glasses-wearing individual with tremendous energy, listening to everything, hardly ever sitting still—this is Don Gibbons. Very often, he has the honor of being the voice of the CIRM.

A tough job indeed. For starters, he has to understand enough of the science to be able to translate it into people talk, enough legalese to do the same for those complicated aspects.

In addition to sharing information through public outreach, some of Gibbons’ projects include: updating the CIRM website, (major improvements just days away, btw) Town Hall Meetings (You MUST come to one of these—the first one was last week, and it was terrific—three outstanding scientists use people talk to share where their corner of the science is at—more info at bottom of page.

And what a message he has to share, as the CIRM’s influence grows, even leaping beyond the artificial boundaries of lines drawn on a map.

COOPERATING WITH OTHER STATES AND NATIONS:

“…no one state or nation (can) do this alone,” stated Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger,”…collaborations…which bring together leading medical researchers from around the globe have a great potential in improving the lives of not only Californians, but all the people around the world.”

The CIRM has already made agreements for combined research with countries including Australia, Spain, Japan, the United Kingdom and Canada, bringing in additional funds to the effort. Those countries have already committed over $200 million dollars to collaborative efforts with CIRM.

For example, Canada will be teaming with California to fight cancer.

There is more to come. California money must always be spent inside the borders of our state (as required by Prop 71 statute), but knowledge can and should be shared.

State to state cooperation will, increase our strength. Consider the example set by Dr. Dennis Clegg of UC Santa Barbara. Working with colleagues in Massachusetts, he found a molecule that helps embryonic stem cells multiply faster, while still maintaining their stability, vital characteristics for the large quantities of pure cells we will need for cure.

CALIFORNIA GOLD

It is not enough just to labor endlessly—everybody wants results. As President Alan Trounson puts it: “I tell my colleagues here at CIRM probably at least once a week: “We are in a hurry; we have a short time frame, and we need to get genuine cures to Californians.”

The opening page of the 2008 report shows the official motto of the CIRM: “turning stem cells into cures.”—Roman Reed. That is my son who wrote those words, in case you did not know—and that is our goal.

Success will come in careful reliable steps, and we are taking them right now.

We benefit from the leadership of chief science officer Marie Csete (pronounced chet-uh) an energetic little exclamation point of a person, and the indefatigable Director of Scientific Activities, Patricia Olson.

Do you know them? If you live in California, you should. Walk up and say hello to them at the next CIRM meeting.

Are they approachable? You bet. Here is an example.

There will soon be an autism workshop: for scientists only. This is fairly common, giving the scientists a chance to speak their own language, and interchange ideas—very important. BUT— such knowledge should be shared. So, seeing Dr. Csete at another public meeting (there have been about 150 public meetings so far) I asked her if there was a way to make the autism meeting more open, because there were literally millions of people interested in this all-too-common condition. She thought about it for a minute, and then said, there should be a transcript, print and video, and that could be made available on the web. (Something I forgot to ask was: could parents of autistic children send in questions to be asked of the scientists?)

That is how this program works. The decisions are made in public, and anyone who wants to get involved is welcome.

Come to the meetings; California wants you! (to find out when and where the meetings are, go to http://www.cirm.ca.gov/ and click on Meetings; it is up near the top of the page.

Already, CIRM scientists have authored more than 70 scientific publications, adding to the world’s understanding.

If you go to the meetings, you will get to hear Dr. Trounson talking about the latest breakthroughs in stem cell science. Such as:

Remember one huge difficulty with the new stem cell method, iPS, induced Pluripotent Stem cells, mainly that the use of viruses might cause cancer? At Scripps Institute, a scientist named Sheng Ding may have found a way around that obstacle, using “small molecules rather than viruses to carry reprogramming genes into cells, moving the iPS cells closer to being safe for clinical use.”

And speaking of genes, this miniscule marvels which turn body processes on and off, it is vital we know exactly which genes do what-- and Dr. Jean Loring and her team “published a database of gene expression profiles”, vital information for the sorting of cells.

(Both those scientists, by the way, received CIRM grants.)

Sometimes, a step in one area helps in another; look at the next two paragraphs.

First, If we can learn how healthy cells are turned into cancer cells, (as Dr. Wei Guo of UCLA did with blood cells), maybe we can learn how to do the reverse-- and turn cancerous cells back into healthiness.

Second, at Stanford, Dr. Emmanuelle Passegue showed that a “family of cancer-fighting proteins also helps blood-forming stem cells divide normally.”

As CIRM President Dr. Alan Trounson observed, “These two push-and-pull findings hold great promise for uncovering novel ways of treating cancer and preventing its spread.”

CIRM helped Dr. Catriona Jamieson of UCSD as she brought a new approach to fighting leukemia to human trials.

So much more: at Stanford, human embryonic stem cells were grown into “primitive cardiac tissue (which) repaired heart damage in mice”.

At UCLA, scientists matured human embryonic stem cells into T cells and inserted a gene—why does that matter? “Their eventual goal is to insert a gene that makes the cells immune to HIV/AIDS, then replace a person’s infected cells with the resistant ones…”

Yet there are still dark days ahead, much work to do, battles yet to fight—including financial ones.

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