The Corner

Science & Tech

Will California Voters Be Stem-Cell Suckered Again?

(Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Back in 2004, the university-biotech complex and its camp followers in the media and Hollywood convinced California voters to borrow $3 Billion to establish the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Its purpose was to pay for embryonic stem-cell and human-cloning research over which the federal-government imposed funding restrictions.

The campaign promised cures, and sold itself as a way to defy Bush’s modest embryonic stem-cell federal-funding restrictions. Fifteen years later, the money is running out — and whaddya know? It turns out the promises were mostly hype — as many opponents of Proposition 71 warned at the time. From the California Stem Cell Report story:

Little public notice of the action was taken even in California’s stem cell community, which has grown mightily over the nearly 15-year life of the agency.

During that period, CIRM has helped finance 55 clinical trials targeting diseases ranging from cancer and heart disease to diabetes and arthritis. It has served up 1,015 research awards. The scientists it has supported have published more than 3,000 research papers. However, CIRM has yet to fulfill the campaign-generated expectations of the 7,018,059 voters in 2004 who voted to create it and who thought they would see new, widely available, miraculous cures.

Impressive results, some of which have saved lives, have surfaced from some of the clinical trials. But the elusive stem cell cure that would be ready for the general public is yet to hit the streets.

Not that impressive. The agency funded expensive building projects — one with a rooftop garden — to make sure the scientists were able to do their work in luxury. It was rife with conflicts of interest.

The trials referenced almost all involved adult or induced pluripotent stem-cell research — which was not the purpose for which the agency was created — and which face zero ethical challenges or funding restrictions from the NIH. Indeed, when the ESCR field mostly proved a dry hole when it came to human applications, the agency turned to these fields in order to have something to show the voters when the time came to persuade them to go deeper into debt to fund high CIRM salaries and expensive research projects.

That time is now:

Today, the agency is pinning its hopes for survival on a yet-to-be-written ballot initiative for the November 2020 ballot. To bridge the gap between now and then, CIRM has been attempting for months to raise privately more than $200 million. So far, no results have emerged publicly.

California is in worse shape now than it was in 2004. Thousands of people are living in tents on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles. There is an epidemic of human feces and used hypodermic needles fouling the streets of San Francisco, so bad there is even a map to warn people where the excrement can be found. Victor Davis Hanson has sadly documented the plunge, calling California the USA’s first Third World state.

I think voters should shut this special interest boondoggle down. But if Californians — I was one in 2004, but no longer am — want to go even deeper into debt as a state in order to keep the CIRM in the chips, that is their call.

If they do, it seems to me that this is a case of fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

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