California Agency Wants $3 Billion More for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 24, 2010   |   2:47PM   |   Sacramento, CA

Not content with the $3 billion his agency already received in taxpayer funds from California residents, the head of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) wants $3 billion more.

In 2004 Robert Klein, chairman of the agency,helped pass Proposition 71, establishing the CIRM with a state taxpayer-funded $3 billion budget for ten years.

The measure was passed with promises of affordable cures for virtually all diseases, cures specifically from embryonic stem cells and cloning, as well as tremendous financial payback for the citizens of California.

But Klein now tells the Los Angeles Times he plans to seek up to $3 billion more from state taxpayers for grants and donations that will mostly go to embryonic stem cell research — which has yet to help a single patient because of massive problems in animals.

“In a recent interview with The Times, Klein said he plans to ask voters to approve another $3 billion in a bond measure on the 2014 ballot to keep the stem cell program going,” the newspaper reports.

Dr. David Prentice, a former Indiana State University biology professor who is now a fellow with the Family Research Council, responded to the news.

“Investors usually seek some substantial return for their investment, especially before sinking more hard-earned dollars into a project,” he told ‘But ethically-controversial embryonic stem cells in general and the CIRM in particular have not made good on the initial taxpayer investment.”

CIRM spending has resulted in many academic publications, nice laboratories and buildings, as well as huge salaries for those running CIRM,” he said. “What the swindling of taxpayers hasn’t produced? Viable treatments.”

John Simpson of the Santa Monica based Consumer Watchdog, agreed with Prentice’s assessment of CIRM as a failed boondoggle.

“Unfortunately, the campaign fell into sound bites and most people voted for it with the expectation that there were going to be stem cell cures in a year, that Superman would walk again,” he told the Times.

Prentice says the money should have been spent on adult stem cell research — which is already helping patients today without the problems of tumors and immune system rejection issues associated with embryonic stem cells.

“The scientists themselves admit that any therapies from embryonic stem cells are years, and likely decades, away. Some of those same scientists express grave concern about the risky clinical trials recently approved for the companies Geron and Advanced Cell Technology, noting that such trials with embryonic stem cells are extremely premature,” Prentice noted.

“The real success, as well as payback, is coming from adult stem cells. Over 50,000 patients a year receive adult stem cell treatments from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, and other tissues,” he continued. [related]

“Published science documents the benefit of adult stem cells for patients with heart damage, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia, and dozens of other conditions. The payback is significant, and in no clearer way than the thousands of people alive today and with improved health,” Prentice said.

He concluded:  “Taxpayers expect to see sound investments during these tough fiscal times. Investing in ethical stem cell research is the only sensible answer.”