Stem cell: UC’s odd ‘unmention’ in its top 10 research tales

Sather Gate at the University of California at Berkeley. (Photo: David A. Litman, via Shutterstock)

The University of California has identified its 10 best research stories of 2021, and right at the top is an article deeply involving the state’s $12 billion stem cell agency.

The catch is that the stem cell agency was not even mentioned. That despite the fact that 13 persons with significant links to the University of California, including a UC regent, sit on the board that oversees the agency.

For advocates who back CIRM, the situation would seem unpleasant and ungracious plus a bit self-destructive for those who benefit from the cash.

The story was put out by the office of the president of the UC system, one Michael V. Drake, who is a physician. The UC news release cited efforts by researchers at UCLA and UC San Francisco to find a cure for sickle cell disease, which afflicts 100,000 persons nationwide, predominantly African American but also Hispanic.

The state stem cell agency, officially known as the California Institute for Regenerative(CIRM), has funded the UC work with at least $28 million. Overall the University of California has received $1.2 billion from CIRM.

Its scientists and faculty have benefitted from the simple presence of the agency. California applicants for CIRM’s billions do not face competition from thousands of researchers elsewhere in the nation. CIRM is barred by law from funding research out-of-state.

Plus, no other state has a cell and gene therapy program that is so generous. And it is the first such effort in state history.

The California Stem Cell Report has written a number of times about the failure of most of the beneficiaries of CIRM’s largess to speak publicly to its cash contributions. They do issue press releases extolling the science but with no mention of the state agency that is making the science possible. The reasons are unclear, but probably are based on a culture within academe that seems averse to public acknowledgment that without “filthy lucre” there would be no research.

For advocates who back CIRM, the situation would seem unpleasant and ungracious plus a bit self-destructive for those who benefit from the cash. Without widespread voter support, the agency cannot survive. Its funding comes only through statewide elections. And 2020 financial bailout of the stem cell program was nail-bitingly close.  Another refinancing of CIRM and its efforts will be needed in a decade or so. And the stork is not going to arrive with a bundle of cash.

Editor’s Note: David Jensen is a retired newsman and has followed the agency since 2005 on his newsletter, the California Stem Cell Report.

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