$5.5 billion stem cell bond called a ‘moral obligation’

A scientist examines cells in a biological laboratory. (Photo: anyalvanova, via Shutterstock)

The man expected to lead the drive for $5.5 billion more for California’s stem cell agency says the Trump restrictions on fetal tissue research represent a dangerous precedent that threatens the health of all Americans. 

Robert Klein, who was the first chairman of the state stem cell agency, said Thursday that “California has unique opportunity and obligation to maintain the scientific and medical options” that have led to development of the polio vaccine along with many others.

Robert Klein

During an interview with the California Stem Cell Report, Klein said the people of California have a “moral” obligation to add more billions to the work of the 14-year-old, $3 billion stem cell agency.

Klein led the 2004 ballot initiative campaign that created the agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).  The agency expects to run out of cash for new awards by the end of this year. It is staking its existence on a proposed ballot initiative that Klein would carry forward.

Klein’s comments came as more reaction surfaced to the Trump action. San Francisco HIV advocate Jeff Sheehy, responding to a question, said in an email:

“Fetal tissue is used to make mice with human immune systems.  Testing new drugs for HIV is just one use–this animal model is used in research across a wide range of diseases to develop and test therapies, including vaccines for infectious diseases.  Stopping this research–which has been taking place for decades–is foolish, anti-science, and a threat to the health and safety of all Americans.”

Kaiser Health News reported:

“The Trump administration’s announcement Wednesday about federal cutbacks in fetal tissue research is short of a total ban, but scientists in the field say it is concerning because it could affect work on treatments or preventions for key diseases, such as HIV and Parkinson’s.”

Sara Reardon, reporting online for Nature, wrote:

“‘It’s a decision that’s going to set back research,’ says Andrew McMahon, a stem cell biologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

“McMahon is studying ways to grow kidneys from human stem cells. He says that the only way to determine whether he and his colleagues have successfully mimicked natural development is to compare their proto-organs to kidneys in fetal tissue. Although biomedical research is often done using mice as proxies for people, mouse kidneys are too different from human kidneys to use in McMahon’s work.”

McMahon was the recipient of a $5.7 million CIRM award dealing with kidney problems. A CIRM document filed in connection with his now concluded research said,

“Our analysis of the developing human kidney has provided the first comprehensive insight into developmental processes highlighting molecular and cellular events shared with the well-studied mouse model, but unique human features.”

McMahon was recruited from Harvard to USC with the help of the CIRM grant. In response to an email query, he said that it was unclear whether his CIRM research would have become ineligible for federal support, given the new Trump review processes.

Bradley Fikes and Gary Robbins of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote:

“The sensitivity of the (fetal tissue research) matter surfaced recently when UCSD drew unwanted attention after one of its employees mistakenly solicited fetal pancreas samples from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-abortion group whose surreptitious videos in 2015 galvanized efforts to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood.”

Editor’s Note: David Jensen is a retired newsman who has followed the affairs of the $3 billion California stem cell agency since 2005 via his blog, the California Stem Cell Report, where this story first appeared.  He has published thousands of items on California stem cell matters.

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