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Stem Cells

Nature News examines CIRM’s public funding uncertainties

California stem-cell research aficionados are of course familiar with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM. The state stem-cell agency has handed out over a billion dollars of funding to build new facilities, recruit promising faculty members and otherwise encourage and support stem cell research in California (Stanford has received the lion’s share of grants, to the tune of nearly 200 million dollars). But, as noted in today’s Nature News:

Halfway through its initial ten-year mandate, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) in San Francisco is confronting a topic familiar to anyone at middle age: its own mortality.

The publicly funded institute, one of the world’s largest supporters of stem-cell research, was born from a state referendum in 2004. Endorsements from celebrities such as then-state governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the late actor Christopher Reeve, who had been paralysed by a spinal injury, helped to garner voter support for a public bond to underwrite the institute. But with half of the US$3 billion that it received from the state now spent and the rest expected to run out by 2021, CIRM is now actively planning for a future that may not include any further state support.

The article quotes Stanford dermatologist and stem cell researcher Howard Chang, MD, PhD:

“It would be a very different landscape if CIRM were not around,” says Howard Chang, a dermatologist and genome scientist at Stanford University in California. Chang has a CIRM grant to examine epigenetics in human embryonic stem cells, and is part of another CIRM-funded team that is preparing a developmental regulatory protein for use as a regenerative therapy. Both projects would be difficult to continue without the agency, he says. Federal funding for research using human embryonic stem cells remains controversial, and could dry up altogether after the next presidential election (see Nature 481, 421–423; 2012). And neither of Chang’s other funders — the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland — supports his interdisciplinary translational work.

You can read more about Chang’s research here and here. The news article is brief, but it’s interesting to hear directly from researchers how CIRM grants have affected their work, and what it might be like if the agency is unable to find new sources of funding.

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