09/21/2019

Lofty promises, limited results

The 2004 measure was Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative. The campaign to pass it was led by a Palo Alto real estate developer whose son suffered from an incurable illness that he believed stem cells, the keystones of human biology, could heal. Other supporters included preeminent scientists, Hollywood celebrities, business leaders and elite investors.

The need was urgent, they said. Federal restrictions had recently been imposed on funding research involving human embryonic stem cells, then the most auspicious field of study.

Among the campaign’s promises: Nearly half of all families in California could benefit from stem cell treatments Prop. 71 would help create. One study it commissioned found that new, life-changing therapies could emerge in just a few years. And Prop. 71 would pay off financially, the campaign claimed, creating thousands of jobs and potentially returning the state’s investment more than seven times over.

. . . Not a single federally approved therapy has resulted from CIRM-funded science. The predicted financial windfall has not materialized. The bulk of CIRM grants have gone to basic research, training programs and building new laboratories, not to clinical trials testing the kinds of potential cures and therapies the billions of dollars were supposed to deliver.

Over that same time, many people suffering from incurable diseases have become impatient waiting for scientists to produce the miracle treatments the Prop. 71 campaign said were within reach. Instead, a thriving, for-profit industry of clinics offering dubious stem cell therapies based on half-baked science has sprung up, defying attempts at government regulation and requests from scientists to proceed cautiously.

View Article