Global Navigation Element.

Spring 2005 Vol. 5 No. 1

Table of Contents


Participants and speakers at December 2004 workshop on stem cell research, Irvine, Calif., photos by Paul R. Kennedy Stem Cell Research:
From Proposition to Reality in California

Shortly after California voters approved a proposition on their November ballot to spend $3 billion over the next decade on stem cell research, backers of the initiative asked the National Academies for help getting started. The proposition created a new institute to administer the research funding, which meant advice was needed on grant-making, licensing agreements, ethical oversight, and more. "We wanted to identify currently accepted best practices that could be used as a foundation," explained Robert Klein, who led the campaign to pass the proposition and was later named head of the new California Institute for Regenerative Medicine -- so named because of the potential for stem cells to provide replacement cells of any type to individuals suffering from certain types of debilitating illnesses.

In December, the Academies responded to the request for help by gathering many of the nation's leading authorities on research management at a two-day workshop in Irvine, Calif.

Several of the speakers there urged those running the California initiative to be innovative in their approach to grant-making. In opening remarks, NAS President Bruce Alberts said not to be afraid of supporting young scientists, who have novel ideas but are often overlooked in federal grant competitions. Robert A. Goldstein, chief scientific officer from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, emphasized the importance of setting priorities and issuing grants aimed at meeting those goals. He added that given the controversial nature of stem cell research and lack of federal guidelines, it may be necessary to include ethicists and patient advocates in the review of grant applications. Larry Gruder, who oversees state-funded grants administered by the University of California system, noted that having out-of-state reviewers reduces the chances of a real or perceived conflict of interest.

Participants and speakers at December 2004 workshop on stem cell research, Irvine, Calif., photos by Paul R. Kennedy
Participants and speakers at December 2004 workshop on stem cell research, Irvine, Calif., photos by Paul R. Kennedy
Participants and speakers at December 2004 workshop on stem cell research, Irvine, Calif., photos by Paul R. Kennedy

Part of the discussion also focused on intellectual property rights. The proposition called for a percentage of royalties from money-making discoveries to be returned to state coffers, which its promoters had argued would offset taxpayer costs. But Ann Hammersla, an intellectual property attorney at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that it will likely be 10 years before any royalties arrive, although California residents may reap other benefits in the meantime, such as job growth.

Of particular interest to the audience were speakers from nonprofit groups affiliated with the University of Wisconsin, Madison. These groups hold patents on several stem cell lines as well as on techniques for harvesting stem cells from human embryos. They allow outside scientists to use these lines and techniques at no charge, but only for research purposes. Because the proposition requires that royalties be shared with the state, however, special agreements will need to be hammered out for California-funded scientists using the patented Wisconsin lines and techniques. California-based Geron Corp. also needs to be part of these discussions since it owns some exclusive rights to therapies developed with the Wisconsin technology.

Workshop participants also discussed the necessity of keeping human embryonic stem cell research funded by a state or private source separate from research funded by the U.S. government, which only allows federal money to be spent on the study of certain pre-existing lines.

R. Alto Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, discussed the prudence of gaining the consent of donors of embryos from which stem cells are to be derived. A National Academies report on responsible stem cell research, expected to be released this spring, will provide further guidance on such issues.

Klein said he expects the new institute to make its first grants this year, an ambitious schedule given the number of issues that workshop participants said need to be tackled.   -- Bill Kearney

The workshop was chaired by Ralph J. Cicerone, chancellor of the University of California, Irvine. The workshop was funded by the California Research and Cures Coalition.

Previous Table of Contents Next

Copyright 2005 by the National Academy of Sciences