The California Stem-Cell Gold Rush
Will New York lose its best medical minds to the lure of unfettered research and the promise of biotech billions?
By Robert Kolker
In the hyperspecialized, politically thorny, quite possibly revolutionary world of stem-cell research, Asa Abeliovich is something of a hot prospect—a double threat, like a pitcher who bats .350, or a singer who can dance. Both an M.D. and a Ph.D., he trained at Harvard and MIT as a cell biologist and neurobiologist, ideally positioning him for the next life-sciences breakthrough. After a residency and a stint at Genentech in California, he was recruited by Columbia University Medical Center, where his work with embryonic stem cells quickly got him noticed. In 2003, in a video shown at a Waldorf gala for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Fox and emcee Conan O’Brien were seen, via the magic of a TV blue screen, pretending to drive Conan’s talk-show desk out of the G.E. Building, up the West Side Highway, and into Abeliovich’s laboratory in Washington Heights, where the young doctor was waiting for them with, if not a cure for Parkinson’s, at least a decent one-liner.
“You know, Conan,” Abeliovich says stiffly, “someday there will be a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, there will never be a cure for bad comedy.”
To which Conan responds by running him over.
“Aw, we need him!” Fox groans, staring back at the writhing scientist.
Abeliovich is 40, entering the vital middle years of his career. He adores Columbia, which he believes has one of the best neurology programs in the country. (Someone in Stockholm must agree, having recently handed Nobel Prizes to Columbia neurologists Eric Kandel and Richard Axel.) And he’s made a home for himself in New York, taking Saturdays to ride his bike from Morningside Heights over the George Washington Bridge. But something happened in November that not only has him thinking about leaving, but also has the scientific community here—some fifteen major research institutions, attracting a collective $1.2 billion in National Institutes of Health grant money every year—in a state of simultaneous elation and alarm.
On November 2, the day George W. Bush was reelected, the citizens of California voted in Proposition 71, the celebrated and controversial ballot measure that could make the state a powerhouse in human embryonic stem-cell research. The state is, in effect, setting up its own version of NIH, offering $3 billion over ten years in funds that the Bush administration has refused to provide. In an unmistakable rebuke of Washington, California is gambling on stem-cell research becoming the biggest, most profitable medical advancement of our age—bigger than the discovery of DNA, bigger than the sequencing of the genome. California’s scientists will be untethered in their research, while New Yorkers like Abeliovich must either rely on compromised supplies of NIH-approved stem-cell lines or pass the hat for private donations.
The pull westward for New York researchers is palpable. Abeliovich, for instance, has an idea for a new commercial therapy for Parkinson’s that puts a gene into human embryonic stem cells to help produce better and healthier brain cells; he’s been approached by venture capitalists who are urging him to start a biotechnology company not here, but in California. “They feel the venture-capital money will be easier there,” he says. His colleagues are also being courted. Lorenz Studer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center—perhaps the city’s most accomplished Parkinson’s researcher working with human embryonic stem cells—says he’s gotten feelers from Stanford and the Burnham Institute in San Diego. California also has come calling for Mount Sinai’s Gordon Keller, who is using human embryonic stem cells to work toward treating blood diseases. “I have gotten some e-mails, yes, from San Diego,” Keller says. “Just, Would you be interested in coming to look? Certainly. I’m going out there to give some seminars anyway. How can you not go?” Since Proposition 71 passed, doctors say the medical centers have been abuzz about who might stay and who might go. Some say the measure even played a role in one departure before Election Day: Arnold Kriegstein, a researcher who led Columbia’s neural stem-cell initiative for eleven years, packed up his lab in August and left for the University of California at San Francisco.
Abeliovich, for his part, says, “It’d be very hard to leave.” Yet searching for a cure for Parkinson’s is his life’s work. So I have to ask: Hasn’t it occurred to him that if he stays in New York, he’ll wake up one day when he’s 55 or 60 and find the cure will have come from California? There and not here? From someone else and not him?
“I mean, when you’re talking about that much excitement, it’s really important,” Abeliovich concedes. The California gold rush, he believes, “is gonna drive the research to some extent. The money is not just money, in a sense—though the money is huge, I just want to make that clear. But that’s not your question. Your question is, Where’s the cure gonna happen?”
He pauses, weighing his words carefully.
“I think the cure’s gonna happen where there’s a confluence between the people and the money,” he says.
You can see him draw the diagram in his head: people on one axis of the graph, money on the other.
“But to some extent,” he adds, connecting the dots, “the people follow the money.”
In the past century, New York has been the epicenter of more than its share of medical breakthroughs: chemo and radiation, blood transfusions, X-rays, aids therapies. For all that, the accomplishments of our scientists rarely command the spotlight. Maybe it’s just the city’s cacophony of braying interests: New York is the capital of so many things—finance, advertising, fashion, the media—that Big Medicine gets lost in the shuffle. But despite their lack of glamour, the hospitals, medical schools, and research centers are the largest employers in New York; the hospitals alone generate at least $1 billion a year in tax revenue. And it’s not just the size of the industry, it’s the quality. In the past six years, five Nobel Prizes have been awarded to New York scientists. Medicine here is in many respects what the city does best; sensational hospitals feel like a New York entitlement—not something that could slip away at any moment.
But at the start of a new century, with perhaps the biggest-ever medical breakthrough poised to take place, New York is in danger of being left behind. “There’s going to be an enormous sucking action to California,” predicts Gerald Fischbach, dean of Columbia’s medical school, who led the neurological-disorders division of NIH during the Clinton administration. If the city loses a place at the table in stem-cell research, and if some of our leading doctors leave town because of it, everything New York medicine is known for—the researchers who develop cutting-edge cures; the hospitals with state-of-the-art facilities to deliver experimental treatments; the seemingly endless supply of great doctors trained by top local medical schools to provide the best possible care—could wither away. And the quality of our health care could go with it.
This isn’t just about medicine—it’s also about money. Since well before Proposition 71, New York has been slow to develop the commercial side of its scientific discoveries—and now we’re reaping what we haven’t sown. Where the Bay Area has 820 biotech companies and 85,000 jobs and Boston has 280 companies and 30,000 jobs, New York has just 60 companies and 2,500 jobs. And areas like the Washington-Maryland corridor and the North Carolina Research Triangle are growing faster than we are. Lately, New York has taken encouraging steps to keep would-be entrepreneurs and the likes of Asa Abeliovich in the city. But now, just as there’s a little momentum, along comes California. If New York scientists are locked out of developing profitable new drug therapies that use stem cells, the coming multi-billion-dollar stem-cell industry could be the greatest business New York never built.
Embryonic stem cells are thought to be the Zeligs of human biology—miraculously capable of renewing themselves indefinitely and taking on the traits of any other cell in the body. With the right research and experimentation, they could be used as a virtual fountain of youth to regenerate human tissue and cure any number of diseases that involve lost or damaged cells—diabetes, ALS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, several types of cancer, and spinal-cord injuries like the late Christopher Reeve’s. True, there have been no breakthroughs yet—which of course means there may never be—but leading scientists, like Columbia’s Gerald Fischbach, are bullish. “I believe within five years there will be phase-one clinical trials using human embryonic stem cells, either in Parkinson’s disease or diabetes,” he says. “That may be going out on a limb, but it’s not 50 years, and it’s not 1 year. And with the first success, everything will change.”
Even before their first extraction and successful isolation in a petri dish in 1998, stem cells courted controversy. Embryonic stem cells are some of the first cells to spring from a fertilized egg. Science gives the embryo a different name—a blastocyst—but taking stem cells from a blastocyst requires destroying it, and the Catholic Church says the 200-cell blastocyst is a human life. Other opponents say this research could lead to the rampant harvesting of human embryos, or to human cloning, or even to Frankenstein-like genetic engineering. In response, stem-cell advocates say the blastocyst is destroyed before its implantation in the uterus—and therefore before the egg’s cells ever lay out even the most basic plan to build the human body. They also argue that the eggs used for this research come from in-vitro-fertilization clinics, chosen from thousands of frozen embryos that are awaiting eventual disposal.
The debate was moot at first, at least in this country: In 1995, the Republican-controlled Congress banned the use of federal money to create or harm human embryos for research. But in 1999, the Clinton administration came up with a creative solution: allow private funding to pay for extracting stem cells and NIH money to pay for the research that followed. That compromise didn’t last long. In an early example of a faith-based initiative, George W. Bush said during the 2000 campaign that he was against human embryonic stem-cell research, and in August 2001, NIH sent down a new policy that stopped just short of banning it altogether. About 60 existing, self-propagating stem-cell lines would still be available for federally funded research; any research that used other human embryonic stem cells was prohibited from getting NIH support. What NIH is saying, essentially, is that scientists may still tinker with the stem cells found in mouse embryos or fiddle with the stem cells found in adults. But the ones found in human embryos—the ones that might replace any cell in the body—are off-limits. This is the policy that exists today and will continue, presumably, for at least the next four years.
Scientists in general despise the restriction, calling it grounded not in science or bioethics but pure politics. Worse, they say, those 60 NIH-approved cell lines the president mentioned turn out to be little more than a dozen. And most of those cell lines aren’t suitable for the best research: They’re either difficult to maintain or have been tainted by other cells.
Proposition 71 harnessed some of the outrage felt not just by researchers but by advocates of the sick. Hollywood couples Lucy Fisher and Doug Wick and Janet and Jerry Zucker each have a daughter with type-1 juvenile diabetes, which destroys the cells that regulate blood sugar; embryonic stem-cell research is thought of as one path to a cure. They formed a group called CuresNow that has been pressing for pro-stem-cell legislation. In 2002, the California State Legislature passed a law encouraging therapeutic cloning—a hot-button issue for the opponents of stem-cell research—which is a way to create a more genetically diverse selection of embryonic stem cells by replacing the nucleus of an egg with the nucleus of another cell. Even though there was no money behind the law, the state became known as research-friendly. And when a new bill to fund the research failed the following year, stem-cell advocates took their case to the people with Prop 71.
It’s a strange wrinkle of the California constitution that even allows for sweeping ballot questions. It’s not unprecedented for California voters to sign off on tremendous policy changes on Election Day; Proposition 13 in 1978 cut California’s property taxes by 30 percent, setting the stage for the Reagan federal tax cuts a few years later. The champion of the Prop 71 effort was Robert Klein, a multimillionaire real-estate developer and father of a child with diabetes, who donated $3 million to the effort and enlisted help from, among others, Bill Gates, to raise $25 million for campaign ads and lobbying. Strategically, the beauty of Prop 71—aside from the blue-state appeal of acing out the White House—was that it promised to make the state money. The idea is for long-term bonds to be repaid with the fruits of new research: royalties and licensing fees, plus tax revenues, new jobs, and new companies. To dispense the grants, Klein shrewdly envisioned the local NIH model, turning anyone who might benefit from the research—patients, families of patients, hospitals, researchers, medical schools—into stakeholders in a powerful and wealthy new agency. The pitch worked. Even the president’s good friend, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, came out in favor of the measure. California human embryonic stem-cell research is seen now as an economic-development tool that could help cure not just diseases but California’s financial woes.
The tactical lesson hasn’t been lost on other states that are hustling to follow California’s lead. Illinois plans to fund $1 billion in research with a tax on cosmetic surgery; call it the Bo-tax. Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Florida are formulating their own plans. New York’s immediate neighbors have been particularly busy. Connecticut governor Jodi Rell wants her state to spend up to $20 million of its budget surplus on stem-cell research. A year ago, New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey had already funded $9.5 million of a new $50 million public-private stem-cell institute; new acting governor Richard Codey is talking about joining forces with Pennsylvania and Delaware to fund regional research. What about New York? With no ability to float a California-style ballot proposition, the state’s stem-cell future is now entirely up to Albany’s notoriously gridlocked State Legislature. In 2003, with Christopher Reeve at his side, Sheldon Silver, speaker of the Democratic-controlled State Assembly, announced a bill called the Reproductive Cloning Prohibition and Research Protection Act. The Assembly has passed it for two years running—but the bill, like the one California passed in 2002, doesn’t back up that support with funding. Not that it matters, really. Joe Bruno, the majority leader of the Republican-controlled State Senate, has left the bill in limbo—without his crucial support, it’s failed twice even to make it to conference—despite Bruno’s close friendship with Nancy Reagan.
And so far, George Pataki has treated the issue as if it were a contagious disease. For a governor eager to ingratiate himself with the president, it might as well be.
Until recent years, the great medical institutions of New York have tended to compete more than cooperate. The major medical centers—Columbia, NYU, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Mount Sinai, Weill-Cornell, Rockefeller, and Yeshiva’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine—are accustomed to acting independently, often fighting for the same scientists and federal grant money. At one time in the late nineties, for example, there were no fewer than five different proposals for major bioscience parks on the drawing board in New York, each one sponsored by a different institution and requiring substantial public support. “When the state is asked to support one of them on something like a biotech incubator, they’re concerned they’ll piss off everybody else,” says Jonathan Bowles of the Center for an Urban Future, a nonpartisan local economic-policy think tank. “In other cities, there are just one or two standouts, like Stanford and Berkeley or Harvard and MIT. The real problem is, no other city has this many top-tier research institutions.”
Some New York institutions did band together to lobby Washington and Albany: A group called New Yorkers for the Advancement of Medical Research—made up of hospitals, medical schools, the New York Biotechnology Association, and disease-focused advocacy groups like Project ALS—started trying to educate Albany legislators about the ethics of therapeutic cloning and the potential of stem-cell research. One of that group’s members, the Academic Medicine Development Company, or AMDeC (a lobbying organization for 35 New York medical schools, academic health centers, and research institutions) had formed a few years earlier to fight for a greater share of NIH grant money.
The city has also become a popular destination for exiled NIH figures from the Clinton administration. In 2000, Memorial Sloan-Kettering hired former NIH chief Harold Varmus, a Nobel laureate for his study of the genetic basis of cancer who started pushing hard for the city to support private biotechnology. A year later, Gerald Fischbach, who had worked under Varmus at NIH, joined Columbia and embarked on his own campaign to fight the NIH restrictions on stem-cell research. He also founded a stem-cell consortium and raised $25 million for stem-cell research.
The medical institutions also found a friend in City Hall. Though admittedly more consumed with other efforts—like pushing hard for the Olympics and a new football stadium—Mike Bloomberg and his economic development staff are friendly to biotechnology. In November, the mayor unveiled plans to develop a long-discussed project called the East River Science Park, near NYU Medical Center, which will provide bioscience entrepreneurs with 870,000 square feet of space for start-up biotech businesses.
Then California lapped them all. Even before Election Day, the heads of New York’s medical institutions started wondering how big the brain drain would be if Prop 71 passed. As if to confirm their worst fears, Irv Weissman, director of Stanford University School of Medicine’s stem-cell institute, boasted in the press about how if the measure won, his first call would be to Harvard and his second to his friend Harold Varmus.
How would the city suffer if stem-cell research doesn’t happen here? It starts with jobs, and it ends, rather ominously, with the possible decline in the quality of our health care.
Let’s start with jobs. By all rights, we should have built a major commercial biotechnology industry here long ago. We have more than enough major medical centers, half the country’s pharmaceutical companies nearby, and an abundance of Wall Street venture capitalists ready to invest in the next Genentech. But practically every time a local doctor dreams up a new commercial drug, the company he partners with has left town. Over the years, the city has lost out on such success stories as Amgen, Pharmacopeia, and Memory Pharmaceuticals, a jewel of a company sprung from the lab of Columbia Nobel laureate Eric Kandel, only to be lured by economic incentives to New Jersey.
The price of not doing business surely runs in the billions, and with Prop 71, we stand to lose more. “If you look at Massachusetts or California, or even at emerging centers like Maryland and Virginia, the multiplier effect of these high-tech scientific jobs is tremendous,” says Kathy Wylde of the Partnership for New York City, the local chamber of commerce. “Silicon Alley is a blip on the screen compared to the potential economic benefits of the life-sciences sector.”
Part of the New York biotech problem is simply real estate. Biotech businesses need a certain kind of space to build and run laboratories, and the city simply hasn’t had it. Add to that the city’s high rents and there’s been little reason to start a biotech outfit here. Ron Cohen, a researcher and an entrepreneur, has actually started two different biotech companies in New York and moved both out of town. His current company, Acorda Therapeutics, which develops drugs to treat nervous-system disorders, opened an office in 1995 in what once had been a walk-in closet. After its first $20 million round of venture-capital financing in 1998, Cohen moved to Westchester. “There was only one viable alternative for the space we needed at the time,” he says—Columbia’s new business-incubator space, the Audubon Business and Technology Center in Washington Heights. “There was nothing else. I was thinking ahead, and if we needed 20,000 feet of space, it wasn’t going to be here.”
The city’s announced bioscience center might help alleviate the space problem, but the rents are still high, and local and state governments haven’t offered subsidies or other incentives the way biotech growth areas like Maryland have. In early 2001, Wylde’s group issued a study suggesting that if the city could invest $100 million in biotech, the private sector would come through with an additional $400 million, making New York the third-biggest biotech market in the nation. The city didn’t oblige. “I’m not sure New York’s business and political leaders feel hungry enough to pursue growth strategies,” says Jonathan Bowles.
New York also has a stigma to live down. The city just isn’t perceived as a biotech town. “Our problem is largely a marketing problem,” says Andrew Alper, head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation. He often tells the story of a newly elected Mike Bloomberg cold-calling Dan Vasella, the CEO of Novartis, after the company announced it was consolidating in Cambridge. They visited Vasella’s pied-à-terre in midtown and made their pitch. Alper recalls Vasella’s saying, “You know what? It just never occurred to me. I was trained in New York, I lived in New York, what you’re saying is absolutely right. You just were not on my radar screen—you weren’t even on my short list of cities to think about for expansion.” Novartis moved to Cambridge anyway. If you’re starting a biotech business, it just makes sense to go where the others are.
New York’s medical institutions, meanwhile, have historically demonstrated an allergy to anything that might make money from their science. Universities like MIT, on the other hand, have built commercial-science parks right next door, and West Coast institutions have welcomed board members from companies like Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems who were ready to help the schools do business. “In California, they understand it’s good for business to back the next Hewlett-Packard rather than just license out the technology to someone else,” says Bowles. “Until five years ago, some of the institutions here didn’t even have a technology-transfer office.”
In recent years, Columbia has set up an effective biotech office for its faculty (which may be of some help to Asa Abeliovich), but when the man behind it, executive vice-provost Michael Crow, decamped for Arizona State University in 2002, he seemed fed up with the lack of enthusiasm here. “New York is one of the scientific capitals of the world, but you wouldn’t know that,” he said at the time. “There’s no recognition that science and technology is any value at any level to New York City.”
Hospitals are only as great as their high-end research. Without the star scientists and the momentous discoveries, donations dry up and grant money goes elsewhere. Losing the stem-cell race would only speed up this process. Even if most of the city’s more established human embryonic stem-cell researchers stay, suppose the research takes off in California or elsewhere? The hospitals and medical schools here could suddenly find themselves unable to attract the next generation’s most talented medical students and young doctors and researchers, who invariably want to be where the sexiest research is happening—and where most of the jobs are.
“Without young faculty, you cut off the lifeblood of the medical school,” says Antonio Gotto, dean of Weill-Cornell Medical College. “They’re needed for teaching, for the patient work, for the research.” In time, what makes New York known around the world—the experimental-drug trials taking advantage of the city’s genetically diverse population, bringing cures here first; the last-minute, hail-Mary treatments for hopeful patients flying in from other countries—could disappear. “Look at aids as a model,” says Dr. Benjamin Chu, president of the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation. “Many of the first protease inhibitors were actually tested here. At Bellevue, we had a federally funded aids research unit. If all of this is happening in a California lab and California hospitals, it’s less likely that our patients would be involved in early trials.”
What will the loss of cutting-edge medicine mean to the average New York patient? “If you break your leg, it probably doesn’t make a difference,” says Jo Wiederhorn, executive director of the Associated Medical Schools of New York. “You may not get A-plus physicians treating you, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get good physicians treating you. But if you are diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, it would certainly have an impact. And if you go traveling and you go someplace and you come back and you’re sick and no one can figure it out? It would impact on that.”
Then there’s the doomsday scenario: New York hospitals lose their main profit centers and become like other urban hospitals—catering mainly to the uninsured and subsisting on shoestring budgets.
Since Prop 71 was passed, New Yorkers for the Advancement of Medical Research has been planning a new advance on Albany. “We have to decide if it’s better to move forward with the policy bill or raise the temperature a bit and make it a money bill,” says one of the alliance’s leaders, Robin Elliott of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.
Others feel more confident about the bill’s chances because, the thinking is, Prop 71 converted stem-cell research from a political issue dominated by the White House and Congress into a federalist issue that any prudent state now must address. Events may put more pressure on Pataki, who, like the Republican governors of Maryland, Massachusetts, and Georgia, has powerful medical institutions facing brain drains; the science and the money may prove irresistible. It doesn’t hurt that the State Senate has lost a few Republican members. “I think the current circumstances around the country are going to force everybody to look at this differently,” says Maria Mitchell, a former chairman of the board of the Health and Hospitals Corporation under Rudy Giuliani who now lobbies for AMDeC. “There have been members of the State Senate who have been receptive but were waiting for the election. Now it’s clear that this thing has been kicked back to the states.”
Others aren’t waiting for the government. They’re strategizing about finding a way to participate in the California gold rush through a back door—alliances between New York and West Coast institutions. Some have heard it may be possible to leverage grant funding—so, for instance, a Columbia researcher would collaborate with Stanford, and the Stanford part would be funded by ballot and the New York part would be funded privately. But most are searching for private dollars. Harold Varmus says Memorial Sloan-Kettering is financing the work of scientists like Lorenz Studer with donations. And Gerald Fischbach says Columbia will set aside at least 10,000 square feet of space for stem-cell research. “We’re not going to get sidelined,” Fischbach says. “I won’t let that happen. We’re gonna make a huge effort to raise private funds for embryonic stem cells.” They’ll have competition, of course: Johns Hopkins has a $60 million privately funded stem-cell institute, and Harvard is on the way to raising $100 million.
California has its Robert Klein, and a few angels have emerged here. Rockefeller University’s privately funded center for stem-cell research exists because of the generosity of philanthropist Harriet Heilbrunn. Chuck Brunie, a founder of Oppenheimer Capital and chair emeritus of the right-leaning Manhattan Institute whose wife, Jean, has suffered several strokes, has pledged $3 million to the stem-cell center at Columbia where Asa Abeliovich works. And Weill-Cornell’s Ansary Center for Stem Cell Therapeutics started with a $15 million grant from Houston philanthropists Shahla and Hushang Ansary. The dean, Antonio Gotto, says the center is actively considering setting up a lab completely independent of NIH in order to use embryos sitting in Weill-Cornell’s fertility clinic. But that would take more money. “I’m sure there are individuals out there,” Gotto says. A megagift, in fact, may already be in the works. According to one accomplished New York stem-cell researcher, several donors are looking to team up to fund a private, local stem-cell initiative that would be shared by a number of medical centers. The gift could be announced as early as January.
In the long run, stem-cell advocates believe a breakthrough in research will change everything. The first time the next Christopher Reeve walks, or the first Parkinson’s sufferer stops shaking, or the first leukemia patient is given a clean bill of health, public outcry for this research, they say, will be overwhelming. The only question for New York is, will we be so far behind at that point that we can’t catch up? Researchers here would prefer not to wait to find out. “I don’t know what it’ll take,” says Gerald Fischbach. “The scientists have weighed in without effect. But I would like to see New York State, a blue state after all, stand up for its principles.”
Six Doctors New York Can’t Lose
By Jada Yuan
Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Keller is working to cultivate the cell that generates blood cells, creating an alternative to bone-marrow transplants for patients with leukemia and other cancers. Such a cell “could create blood for the rest of one’s life,” he says. “What we fear here is not so much the more senior people going to California. But when we try and hire young faculty, and California says, ‘Well, in addition to NIH funds, you can apply for Proposition 71 funds,’ we have nothing to counter that offer.”
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Mehler is trying to “program” inactive stem cells in the brain to self-repair injuries from strokes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. “We think the future is in using cells that are already in the body,” he says. “If that’s the case, then the whole embryonic argument becomes moot.” Because he’s using NIH-approved lines, his research isn’t affected by the federal stem-cell ban. “But personally, I love California,” he says. “I wouldn’t mind being there.”
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Like Keller, Moore is attempting to grow blood-forming stem cells that self-renew with an eye toward treating leukemia and other blood diseases. At the same time, he’s trying to perfect the process of taking laboratory stem cells and successfully implanting them in humans. “Clearly, the momentum is going to swing to the West Coast,” he says. “I interviewed three or four very good postgrad students, and they’ve all elected to go to California.”
Weill-Cornell Medical College
A pioneer in gene therapy, Crystal is developing a way to inject genes into stem cells so that the cells grow only healthy, noncancerous tissue—for the proper organ. “The last thing you want to do is put stem cells into a heart and have them turn into a brain.” Why would anyone want to leave New York? he asks. “We have the highest concentration of biomedical talent in the country.” Still, he says, “the more resources anywhere, the faster this will go.”
Weill-Cornell Medical College
Rafii has created a cocktail of stem cells and proteins that could potentially grow functional heart muscle. “Eventually, we could have universal cardiac donors. You could call a company and order your exact genetic match. This is not science fiction.” Rafii says he’s not interested in California primarily because he believes Weill-Cornell is on the verge of several breakthroughs. “We have so much more brainpower than California,” he says.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
By exposing embryonic stem cells to certain proteins, Studer is working to produce the dopamine neurons destroyed by Parkinson’s disease. For the first time, he says, “we may have a pure, unlimited source for dopamine transplantation, which could eliminate the need for drugs.” California? “I’ve had offers,” he says. “It’s clearly something I have to think about.”
Last edited by Punzie; June 11th, 2007 at 06:29 AM. Reason: Put back post #1 title, The California Stem-Cell Gold Rush. (It was removed during merge.)
January 17, 2005
With Eye on Rivals, Senator Proposes New York Institute
By MIKE McINTIRE
Hoping to catch up to other states that are aggressively supporting research on embryonic stem cells, Democratic leaders in the New York Senate announced legislation yesterday that would commit $1 billion to a similar effort in New York.
The proposal, offered by David A. Paterson, the Senate Democratic leader, calls for the creation of a New York stem cell institute to regulate research in the field, as well as make loans and grants to organizations and companies. It is similar to an initiative under way in California, which approved a $3 billion stem cell research fund last year, and to a $380 million proposal announced last week by New Jersey's acting governor, Richard J. Codey.
Mr. Paterson referred to California at a news conference at City Hall, saying its program, which is poised to begin making its first research grants within months, represents "our chief competition." He added: "Of course, New York still has an advantage because of our vast intellectual power and network of public and private universities, research centers and medical facilities, but that gap is closing."
Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, a Manhattan Democrat, bluntly warned that New York stood to suffer economically if it did not act soon to support private-sector research initiatives. "If the state of New York doesn't recognize the competitive need, our research scientists are all going to change their tune from 'I Love New York' to 'California, Here I Come' in a very short period of time," he said.
Mr. Paterson made his announcement two days before Gov. George E. Pataki is to present his 2006 state budget proposal. The senator said that he hoped the governor, a Republican, would eventually include the money in the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in April, but that he had not yet commented on the matter.
Jennifer Meicht, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the administration would not comment on Mr. Paterson's proposal until it had reviewed it. "Generally, the governor has been supportive of the concept of stem cell research," she said.
Under the proposal, the state would borrow up to $1 billion over 10 years. Unless the governor includes funding for it in his budget, the project stands little chance of becoming reality. The initiative would require approval by voters in a referendum.
With the state facing a projected $6 billion deficit next year, growing to $7.7 billion the year after that, it is unclear how much support there will be in Albany for adding to the debt burden. Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who has proposed a law to create ethical guidelines for stem cell research, said that the roughly $100 million a year to finance the institute was relatively small in the context of the state's $100 billion budget.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
January 17, 2005
New Jersey Faces Tough Competition for Stem Cell Scientists
By LAURA MANSNERUS
TRENTON, Jan. 14 - While the federal government has sharply limited research on embryonic stem cells, casting it as a moral issue, governors around the country are moving aggressively to push the research forward, spending millions, seeking to lure top scientists to their states and planning state-of-the-art research facilities.
Last fall, California stepped to the forefront when voters there agreed to borrow $3 billion over 10 years to finance stem cell research. And in New Jersey last week, Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey entered what he called "the race for the cure" by proposing to spend $380 million on research. New Jersey's planned spending gives the state a lock on second place in the stem cell research race, behind California, but Mr. Codey warned it might not last.
"We have to act aggressively," he said, "because other states like Wisconsin and Illinois are right behind us."
In fact, everyone is chasing California in the competition for talent, money and recognition.
"There are more dollars now going into the field than there would be if President Bush in 2001 had thrown the gates wide open," said Daniel Perry, the president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which according to its Web site includes some 90 research universities and medical advocacy groups, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International. "What he sought to starve has turned out to be very well fed."
At the very least, competing states are trying to keep their own researchers from joining a migration to the West Coast. At the most, they are cultivating their own biotech valleys, already thriving in ZIP codes around Boston, San Francisco and the Research Triangle in North Carolina, to name a few.
The Illinois legislature is considering a tax on elective cosmetic surgery to raise $100 million a year for stem cell research. In Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle has pledged a $375 million institute for biomedical research, including stem cell projects. Connecticut's governor, M. Jodi Rell, wants to allocate $10 million to $20 million to stem cell research. About 10 other states have similar, if less specific, proposals.
In Albany, several legislators are advocating proposals for state support of embryonic stem cell research, although others want to join a handful of other states that ban embryonic stem cell research altogether.
Dr. Wise Young of Rutgers, a founding director of the New Jersey institute, mentioned the possibility of poaching scientists from New York. "Right in the middle of Manhattan is the highest concentration of scientists anywhere in the world in biology and life sciences. New York would be well advised to start a program, or else they will start moving," he said.
New Jersey has an advantage, even over California, in its timetable. Construction of the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey is to start this summer in New Brunswick, state officials said, and the directors of the project are already recruiting its staff of 150 researchers.
In his State of the State address, Mr. Codey pledged $150 million in unspent bond money to finance construction. He is seeking voter approval this fall for $230 million in bonding for grant money.
Mr. Codey's predecessor, James E. McGreevey, made New Jersey the first state to commit public funds to stem cell research and won legislative approval for the institute last year with seed money of $9.5 million.
At the time that figure drew grateful attention from researchers around the country. Less than a year later, the spending has risen exponentially. Adding up expected commitments by state governments, "you're talking $400 million or $500 million a year in stem cell research," said Mr. Perry of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research.
The surge comes in part because of President Bush's ban on federal financing for research involving embryonic stem cells, except for a few colonies that were in laboratories when he issued the order in 2001. Since stem cells are ordinarily taken from embryos discarded by fertility clinics, abortion opponents had raised objections.
California's billions have already skewed the market for talent.
Michael Manganiello, the director of government relations for the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, which is based in New Jersey, said that young scientists and postdoctoral students "can set up in California in a minute."
He added, " I know I would."
"If New Jersey can come up with the $400 million, I think it makes them a player," Mr. Manganiello continued. "It definitely encourages scientists to stay and young scientists to come."
One stem cell scientist who moved to California, Dr. Evan Snyder of the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, said state support moves institutions before the institutions draw people. Dr. Snyder was at Harvard University in 2002, when California became the first state to enact a law protecting stem cell research. Though no state money was attached, Dr. Snyder said "several institutions made decisions they were going to start Manhattan Project-type programs." Burnham did, and hired Dr. Snyder as the program's director.
Others have followed, many researchers say, although the only reports they can offer are anecdotal. But Dr. Snyder said, "I don't think it's going to be a brain drain like a vacuum cleaner sucking people out of the East."
California already had the biggest pool of private biotechnology companies and several academic medical centers, which will now compete for $300 million a year in state funds. New Jersey's model is different, bringing most of the researchers under one roof, affiliated with Rutgers University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
What every state covets, of course, are the clusters of private companies that grow up around medical centers and the investment they bring. It is hard to forecast investment in private stem cell ventures, however, said G. Steven Burrill, the chief executive officer of Burrill & Company, a biotechnology investment firm in San Francisco. Last year, Mr. Burrill said, about $5 billion in venture capital went into biotechnology, but only $30 million to $50 million to companies specializing in stem cell work.
"Over time it will be going up," he said. "Immediately, no."
The trend to public research by the states, while fostering innovation, may also cause duplication and splintering in research, Mr. Perry said.
"It's going to create a crazy-quilt pattern across the U.S.," he said. In some states, stem cell research will flourish, he said. Other states, he added, "are going to criminalize the same research, where you could get thrown in jail for moving a cell nucleus to the wrong place."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Stem Cells Help Repair Rats' Paralysis
By LAURAN NEERGAARD
The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 20, 2006; 5:53 PM
WASHINGTON -- Scientists have used stem cells and a soup of nerve-friendly chemicals to not just bridge a damaged spinal cord but actually regrow the circuitry needed to move a muscle, helping partially paralyzed rats walk.
Years of additional research is needed before such an experiment could be attempted in people.
But the work marks a tantalizing new step in stem cell research that promises to one day help repair damage from nerve-destroying illnesses such as Lou Gehrig's disease, or from spinal cord injuries.
"This is an important first step, but it really is a first step, a proof of principle that ... you can rewire part of the nervous system," said Dr. Douglas Kerr, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University who led the work being published Monday in the journal Annals of Neurology.
Perhaps most importantly, the experiment illustrates that if stem cells eventually live up to their promise, treatment won't be simple _ they can't just be injected into a diseased body and repair it on their own.
Instead, the new research details a complex recipe of growth factors and other chemicals that entice the delicate cells to form correctly and make the right connections. Miss a single ingredient, and the cells wander aimlessly, unable to reach the muscle and make it move.
The study may bring "the appropriate tempering of expectations of stem cells," said Kerr, considered a leader in the field. "Some of my patients say, 'Oh, I'm going to pull into the stem-cell station and get my infusion of stem cells,' and it's never going to be that."
Stem cells are building blocks that turn into different types of tissue. Embryonic stem cells in particular have made headlines, as scientists attempt to harness them to regenerate damaged organs or other body parts. They're essentially a blank slate, able to turn into any tissue given the right biochemical instructions. But human embryonic stem cell research is politically controversial, because culling the cells destroys embryos.
The Hopkins experiment isn't the first to use stem cells to help paralyzed rodents move. But previous work bridged damage inside the spinal cord that blocked nerve cells from delivering their "move" messages to muscles, sort of like fixing the circuit that brings electricity to a fan.
The new work essentially installs new wiring: replacing motor neurons _ specialized nerve cells for movement _ that have died to make a new circuit that grows neuronal connections out of the spinal cord and down to a leg muscle.
"They did something that people have been trying to do for at least 30 years and literally hit a brick wall until now," said Dr. Naomi Keitman of the National Institutes of Health's neurology division, which partly funded the work along with patient advocacy groups.
First, Kerr mixed embryonic stem cells from mice with chemicals that caused them to turn into motor neurons. He transplanted them into the spinal cords of partially paralyzed rats.
Some rats received neurons treated with substances to boost their survival chances.
Even if the fledgling motor neurons lived, insulation called myelin on surrounding nerve cells would inhibit their growth. So some rats also received injections of chemicals, including an antidepressant called rolipram, thought to neutralize myelin's antigrowth effect.
Still others were injected with a growth factor called GDNF near the leg muscle, as a signpost to direct the new neurons to form connections there.
Only the group of rats that got every extra ingredient improved, Kerr found. The paralysis wasn't completely gone, but six months after treatment, 11 of the 15 animals could bear weight, take steps and push away with the affected leg.
Of the roughly 4,000 new motor neurons generated in the rats' spinal cords, about 120 reached the muscle, and 50 were electrically active, further testing showed.
The next step, to start this summer: Redoing the experiment in pigs, to see if new neurons can be enticed to grow connections over the longer distances needed to reach from a pig's spinal cord to its leg.
© 2006 The Associated Press
Neurons Grown from Embryonic Stem Cells Restore Function in Paralyzed Rats
For the first time, researchers have enticed transplants of embryonic stem cell-derived motor neurons in the spinal cord to connect with muscles and partially restore function in paralyzed animals. The study suggests that similar techniques may be useful for treating such disorders as spinal cord injury, transverse myelitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and spinal muscular atrophy. The study was funded in part by the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
The researchers, led by Douglas Kerr, M.D., Ph.D., of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, used a combination of transplanted motor neurons, chemicals capable of overcoming signals that inhibit axon growth, and a nerve growth factor to attract axons to muscles. The report is published in the July 2006 issue of Annals of Neurology.*
"This work is a remarkable advance that can help us understand how stem cells might be used to treat injuries and disease and begin to fulfill their great promise. The successful demonstration of functional restoration is proof of the principle and an important step forward. We must remember, however, that we still have a great distance to go," says Elias A. Zerhouni, Director of the National Institutes of Health.
“This study provides a 'recipe' for using stem cells to reconnect the nervous system,” says Dr. Kerr. "It raises the notion that we can eventually achieve this in humans, although we have a long way to go."
In the study, Dr. Kerr and his colleagues cultured embryonic stem cells from mice with chemicals that caused them to differentiate into motor neurons. Just before transplantation, they added three nerve growth factors to the culture medium. Most of the cells were also cultured with a substance called dibutyrl cAMP (dbcAMP) that helps to overcome axon-inhibiting signals from myelin, the substance that insulates nerve fibers in the spinal cord.
The cells were transplanted into eight groups of paralyzed rats. Each group received a different combination of treatments. Some groups received injections of a drug called rolipram under the skin before and after the transplants. Rolipram, a drug approved to treat depression, helps to counteract axon-inhibiting signals from myelin. Some animals also received transplants of neural stem cells that secreted the nerve growth factor GDNF into the sciatic nerve (the sciatic nerve extends from the spine down the back of the hind leg). GDNF causes axons to grow toward it.
Three months after the transplants, the investigators examined the rats for signs that the stem cell-derived neurons had survived and integrated with the nervous system. The rats that had received the full cocktail of treatments — transplanted motor neurons, rolipram, dbcAMP, and GDNF-secreting neural stem cells in the sciatic nerve — had several hundred transplant-derived axons extending into the peripheral nervous system, more than in any other group. The axons in these animals reached all the way to the gastrocnemius muscle in the lower leg and formed functional connections, called synapses, with the muscle. The rats showed an increase in the number of functioning motor neurons and an approximately 50 percent improvement in hind limb grip strength by 4 months after transplantation. In contrast, none of the rats given other combinations of treatments recovered lost function.
"We found that we needed a combination of all of the treatments in order to restore function," Dr. Kerr says.
Follow-up experiments with GDNF treatment on only one side of the body showed that, by 6 months after treatment, 75 percent of rats given the full combination of treatments regained the ability to bear weight on the GDNF-treated limbs and to take steps and push away with the foot on that side of the body.
"This research represents significant progress," says David Owens, Ph.D., the NINDS program director for the grant that funded the work. "It is a convergence of embryonic stem cell research with other areas of research that we've funded, including work that uses combination therapies such as rolipram and dbcAMP, growth factors, and cells to facilitate the repair of the injured spinal cord.”
Previous studies have shown that stem cells can halt spinal motor neuron degeneration and restore function in animals with spinal cord injury or ALS. However, this study is the first to show that transplanted neurons can form functional connections with the adult mammalian nervous system, the researchers say. They used both electrophysiological and behavioral studies to verify that the recovery was due to connections between the peripheral nervous system and the transplanted neurons.
"We’ve previously shown that stem cells can protect at-risk neurons, but in ongoing neurodegenerative diseases, there is a very small window of time to do so. After that, there is nothing left to protect," says Dr. Kerr. "To overcome the loss of function, we need to actually replace lost neurons."
While these results are promising, much work remains before a similar strategy could be tried in humans, Dr. Kerr says. The therapy must first be tested in larger animals to determine if the nerves can reconnect over longer distances and to make sure the treatments are safe. There currently is no large-animal model for motor neuron degeneration, so Dr. Kerr's group is working to develop a pig model. Researchers also need to test human embryonic stem cells to learn if they will work in the same way as the mouse cells. It has only recently become possible to grow motor neurons from human embryonic stem cells, Dr. Kerr adds. However, if the future studies go well, this type of therapy might eventually be useful for spinal muscular atrophy, ALS, and other motor neuron diseases.
NINDS is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the Department of Health and Human Services and is the nation’s primary supporter of biomedical research on the brain and nervous system. The NINDS mission is to reduce the burden of neurological disease. Go to http://www.ninds.nih.gov/ for more information.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
* Deshpande D, Kim YS, Martinez T, Carmen J, Dike S, Shats I, Rubin L, Drummond J, Krishnan C, Hoke A, Maragakis N, Shefner J, Rothstein J, Kerr D. “Recovery from Paralysis in Adult Rats Using Embryonic Stem Cells.” Annals of Neurology, July 2006, Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 22-34.
Excommunication Is Sought for Stem Cell Researchers
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
July 1, 2006
ROME, June 30 — Scientists who engage in stem cell research using human embryos should be subject to excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, according to a senior Vatican official.
Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, who heads the group that proposes family-related policy for the church, said in an interview with the Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana published Thursday that stem cell researchers should be punished in the same way as women who have abortions and doctors who perform them.
"Destroying an embryo is equivalent to abortion," said the cardinal. "Excommunication is valid for the women, the doctors and researchers who destroy embryos."
It was unclear if the pope supported the position, and the Vatican did not return calls for comment. But such blunt remarks from a powerful cardinal just a week before the church convenes a meeting to discuss the topic could foreshadow a hardening of Vatican policy on the issue, experts said.
On Saturday, Cardinal Trujillo will open the church's fifth World Meeting of Families in Valencia, Spain, and Pope Benedict XVI will attend on July 9, the closing day. As head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, it will be up to Cardinal Trujillo to propose new church policies, though adopting any such measure could require a long and complicated process.
The church has long opposed embryonic stem cell research, and has campaigned against any medical procedure or research technique that harms human embryos or fetuses.
But the threat of individual excommunication — the most serious punishment meted out by the church — was previously directed at women and medical personnel who participated in abortions. Cardinal Trujillo's stand would broaden the use of that sanction to biomedical researchers who use embryos.
"The cardinal's view is that the penalty of excommunication should be extended to stem cell research," said the Rev. Brian Johnstone, a moral theologian at the Alphonsian Academy here. "The provisions of canon law about what leads to excommunication are very precise."
But Father Johnstone cautioned that it was unlikely that the church would formally adopt a final position next week. "Clarification of such a delicate point of this importance is unlikely to be made at such a large gathering," he said.
Even some Catholics who are opposed to the use of embryos in research felt that excommunication was too strong a sanction. "If we're defending the principle that human life should not be touched, it should not be done in a punitive, castigatory or burn-in-hell sort of way," said Paola Binetti, a leading Catholic politician here.
The specification of the punishment for embryonic stem cell research was partly needed so the church could catch up with advances in science.
When the 1990 Evangelium Vitae came out reaffirming that abortion would lead to automatic excommunication, "Embryonic stem cell research was not a front-page issue," Ms. Binetti said.
While doctors and scientists claim that embryonic stem cell research holds the promise to cure many intractable diseases, the church opposes the practice because human embryos are used to harvest cells for the work. Some of these embryos are left over after in vitro fertilization procedures, but scientists can also create embryos themselves.
The church regards such early-stage embryos as a human life, not to be used or destroyed. It maintains that there are other ways to obtain stem cells for research purposes — from umbilical cord blood after a birth, for example — though it acknowledges that they are significantly more cumbersome.
According to current church law, excommunication for abortion is "latae senentiae," meaning that it is automatic and does not require an action or proclamation by a church official. This type of excommunication is reserved for acts deemed so serious that no verdict or judgment is required. Even so, many women who have had abortions continue to practice Catholicism, and many parishes take pains to embrace and reintegrate them into church life.
Other acts that result in automatic excommunication include violence against the pope and consecrating a bishop without authorization. Now, experts said, Cardinal Trujillo's remarks raise the possibility that being involved in stem cell research might be added to the category.
Peter Kiefer contributed reporting from Rome for this article, and Elisabetta Povoledo from Milan.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
Parkinson’s Approach With Stem Cells A Promising First Step
Brain cells derived from human embryonic stem cells improved the condition of rats with Parkinson’s-like symptoms dramatically, but the treatment caused a significant problem – the appearance of brain tumors – that scientists are now working to solve. The study is featured on the cover of the November issue of Nature Medicine.
(Media-Newswire.com) - The work was reported by neurologist Steven Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and chief of its Division of Cell and Gene Therapy, and Neeta Roy, Ph.D., assistant professor of Neurology at Cornell’s Weill Medical College.
“The results are a real cause for optimism,” said Goldman. “These animals with severe Parkinson’s symptoms had a dramatically improved outcome after treatment. Now we have a new problem to work on, how to achieve the same benefit without creating tumors. But we expect to be able to solve this problem within the next year or two, using new approaches to cell sorting that we’ve been developing.”
“All in all, this is the way medical discoveries move forward: One step at a time.”
Goldman has spent much of his career creating ways to isolate stem cells, discovering the molecular signals that help determine what specific types of cells they become, and then re-creating those signals to direct the cells’ development. It’s the versatility of stem cells that make them so attractive. If scientists like Goldman are successful directing their development, such cells could provide a ready source of cells custom made to treat a given disease – for instance, myelin-producing cells for multiple sclerosis, or the specific types of cells that die in patients with Parkinson’s or Huntington’s diseases.
In the experiment reported in Nature Medicine, Goldman, Roy and colleagues set out to grow brain cells called neurons that produce dopamine, a crucial brain chemical lacking in patients with Parkinson’s. They began by isolating human embryonic stem cells, then using genes such as “sonic hedgehog” and fibroblast growth factor 8 that make chemicals in the normal brain environment. Such signals are the body’s natural way of directing stem cells to develop into the specific cells needed.
Past attempts at using stems cells to make this type of neuron had achieved modest success, but only relatively small numbers could be produced in tissue culture. To improve upon this, Roy and Goldman attempted to re-create the natural environment of the developing brain as much as possible, so it would seem to the stem cells that they were developing in the part of the brain where dopamine neurons are normally made. The team did so by raising the cells together with brain cells known as astrocytes, which had come from the same brain region. These cells have long been known to play a crucial role nourishing neurons.
The result was that more than two-thirds of the stem cells developed into precisely the type of cell needed to treat Parkinson’s disease – dopamine-producing neurons. That percentage is far higher than any previous experiment had achieved.
The team then injected the cells into the brains of rats with Parkinson’s-like symptoms, and watched for 10 weeks. While rats with the disorder walked in circles when prompted to move, as if they were chasing their tails, rats transplanted with the new cells recovered normal function and eventually stopped walking in circles. By eight weeks after treatment, the tail-chasing behavior ended completely, and they were walking and running normally.
Yet when the brains of the animals were examined, the team found tumors within the brain grafts. Goldman said the tumors sprang from stem cells that had started on the road to becoming neurons, but then stalled in their development and grew out of control. The team is working on ways to filter out those cells, to reap the benefits while avoiding the side effects of the approach.
“The appearance of tumors was disappointing, but not surprising,” said Goldman. “The goals of this experiment were to create a population of cells that had many more dopamine neurons than previous attempts yielded, and to measure whether a group of cells with so many of these neurons would yield real-life benefits in terms of behavior. We accomplished both tasks. The cells improved the disease symptoms dramatically, beyond what we expected.
“In this first attempt of the technology, we did not attempt to try to absolutely purify the cell population that was transplanted – thus the brain tumors. The experiment confirmed that we need to have an absolutely pure cell population, and we are working on ways to do that.”
The work was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Other authors of the paper, all at Cornell, are Carine Cleren, Shashi Singh, Lichuan Yang, and M. Flint Beal.
This story was released on 2006-12-04.
That is definitely a good sign!
The thing is, it looks like they are trying to do an appendectomy with a shotgun. They got the appendix, but they also managed to get a bit more at the same time.
They need to refine the technique a bit. But the thing that gets me here is the fact that the tumors might also be helpful in that if they remove and try to study which stems cells developed normally and which underwent uncontrolable cancerous replication, they might get a better clue as to the causes of cancer. Not only what things make a cell prone to it, but what signals are given that prompt the growth to begin....
With Eliot Spitzer taking over the governor's seat this January, New York State appears may be obtaining stem cell funding in the near future.
Here are excerpts from Spitzer's campaign promise:
Spitzer Unveils $1 Billion Stem Cell Proposal
By BRUCE LAMBERT
Published: April 13, 2006
The New York Times
Staking a position on a politically sensitive issue, Eliot Spitzer, who is running for governor, promised at a press conference on Wednesday that his administration would push for a $1 billion bond to pay for stem cell and other medical research.
Mr. Spitzer, the state's attorney general, said the money for research on stem cells and other promising treatments would be the ''centerpiece'' of the state's health care policy if he were elected.
Mr. Spitzer, the state's attorney general, said the money for research on stem cells and other promising treatments would be the ''centerpiece'' of the state's health care policy if he were elected.
. . .
Some Catholics oppose stem cell research as a desecration of human life because it uses surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization. On Wednesday, calls to Mr. Suozzi's campaign office and his county office seeking his position on the matter were not returned.
Supporters of the research say it could save lives. Mr. Spitzer said New York was falling behind most other states in stem cell research, especially after the Bush administration's ban on most such projects.
''If Washington is going to fail us, states must step into the breach,'' he said. Of the national Republican administration, he said, ''Time and time again it has put politics over science.''
. . .
His choice for lieutenant governor, State Senator David A. Paterson, developed the plan and appeared with Mr. Spitzer to discuss it. Mr. Spitzer said that Mr. Paterson would be his point man on the program.
The two spoke at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, a research arm of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System and an example of the kind of scientific organization that Mr. Spitzer said would get research funds.
Though Mr. Spitzer has accused Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, of excessive spending and debt, he said medical research funds would be ''dollars very well spent.'' Noting that the bond issue would be subject to a statewide voter referendum, he said, ''The vast majority of New Yorkers support this.''
Researchers at the institute said that stem cell research holds promise for treatment of a wide range of diseases, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, arthritis, cancer, diabetes and paralysis.
The chief medical officer at North Shore-Long Island Jewish, Dr. Jon R. Cohen, predicted that stem cell research would revolutionize medicine ''a thousandfold'' more than the discovery of antibiotics did and would eventually help perhaps 70 percent of people suffering from fatal illnesses in New York State. But the scientists and the politicians cautioned against expecting instant cures and panaceas. ''This is not for tomorrow,'' said Dr. David Eidelberg, who specializes in brain research at Feinstein. ''It's a long-term investment.''
Senator Paterson said, ''We don't want to raise hopes that can't be fulfilled.'' He did predict that the research would be a catalyst ''for a lot of good.''
. . .
This is one of the best and most succinct op-ed pieces I have read on Spitzer's campaign promise. Not surprisingly, it is from Rochester Democrat and Chronicle website.
Let's vote on stem cells
Lawmakers should endorse Spitzer's idea for a referendum
(December 3, 2006) — It is important to the lives of New Yorkers — and to the emerging biomedical sector of the Rochester-region economy — that the state create a public funding stream for stem cell research.
The state has already fallen behind California and other states in this research, and that is a troubling deficit for the University of Rochester and other local institutions hoping to become national and global leaders in these fields. There is enormous promise in the use of adult and embryonic cells in treating spinal cord injuries, cancer and other illnesses and conditions.
This is not a new issue at the Capitol — last year, lawmakers made a stab at creating a $300 million fund to spur such research in the state. But religious institutions, most prominently the Catholic Church, oppose any public funds being used to conduct stem cell research using human embryos, and the bill foundered in the state Senate.
Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer has taken the right approach. Rather than attempt to push this through a divided Legislature, he wants a public referendum on the creation of a major $1 billion institute to supplement the public and private dollars that are already flowing to stem cell research and other biomedical efforts. Polls have shown that the public supports this kind of research. But clearly there are moral and ethical issues besides medical, political and economic concerns. Guidance from the electorate is appropriate on issues of this magnitude.
Lawmakers, at Spitzer's prodding, should waste no time in getting this issue on the ballot. The upstate economy — as this page stressed in its Reworking Rochester project — must reverse the trend of job loss and population flight.
The University of Rochester already is moving some of its groundbreaking work out of the laboratory and into commercial application. Some important stem cell work is already going on. But a federal ban and the state's current stalemate have put this region at a competitive disadvantage.
Spitzer should push his referendum idea. New York must not continue to lose ground.
New Jersey to spend $10 million on stem cell research
12/16/2006, 12:13 p.m. ET
By TOM HESTER Jr.
The Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Hoping to jump-start plans to make New Jersey a leader in stem cell research, Gov. Jon S. Corzine's administration plans to make $10 million available for research grants, with most money going to embryonic stem cell research.
A senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to not upstage a Monday announcement, said $7 million will go toward embryonic stem cell research not supported by federal funding.
The announcement will come after the state Legislature on Thursday approved spending $270 million on stem cell research facilities in Camden, Newark and New Brunswick.
The money for the grants will come from the $31 billion state budget signed into law in July, but the administration hopes the grants will highlight New Jersey's impending investment in the research facilities.
"It's all about building momentum and being at the front of the pack," said the administration official.
Corzine hopes to move quickly to establish New Jersey as a leader in stem cell research, partly by taking advantage of existing biomedical research in the state. He has cited stem cell work as potentially groundbreaking research that could boost the state's economy.
"It's one of the great initiatives the state has taken on," Corzine said Thursday of the $270 million facility plan, indicating that the bill will "lay a platform to have New Jersey be a leader among the states and across the globe."
The governor is expected to sign the stem cell research facility bill on Wednesday.
Many scientists view stem cell research as instrumental in replacing diseased tissue and curing ailments, though social conservatives liken embryonic stem cell research to abortion because it destroys the embryo.
In 2001, the Bush administration imposed strict embryonic stem cell research guidelines that scientists argue limit advances.
But scientists see hope in embryonic stem cells because they lead to creating all the organs and tissues in the human body.
Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and California are among the states that have agreed to fund such work themselves.
Administration officials note New Jersey's $10 million grant program will be topped only by the $20 million Connecticut awarded to researchers at Yale, Wesleyan and the University of Connecticut, though California will soon decide how to allocate about $150 million.
New Jersey plans to give $3 million in grants for general stem cell research in amounts up to $300,000.
It plans to award two or three grants ranging from $1 million to $3 million to help establish embryonic stem cell research facilities that would enable work not supported by federal funds.
The institutions will have to be in New Jersey and will have to provide resources to researchers throughout the state and demonstrate how they can help coordinate a statewide stem cell research program.
Applicants will have until March 8 to apply, with award decisions expected in mid-June.
$10 million, huh? Isn't that the tuition at Princeton these days?
Well, its a start, anyway.
Corzine delivers stem cell 'present'
Declaring he had a "great present to deliver,'' Gov. Jon Corzine today signed legislation that will provide $270 million in funding to build stem cell research centers and facilities for cancer and biomedical research in New Jersey.
Corzine signed the legislation at the Statehouse in Trenton before a standing-room only audience of stem cell research advocates, which included a handful of people with spinal cord injuries.
"Stem cell research has the potential to save and extend lives and lead us to cures that have previously been beyond our grasp,'' said Corzine. "This investment will position New Jersey as a world leader in cutting edge research and yield results that could touch lives around the globe.''
Senate President Richard J. Codey (D-Essex), a prime sponsor of the legislation, said, "Today, our efforts have the potential to impact people the world over, in ways we can't yet imagine. The true scope of this initiative may not be felt for a decade or even longer - when people around the world live vastly improved lives because of the work that will be done right here in New Jersey. For over a century, this has been our legacy as a state and today we are preserving it.''
The next step in the 4-year-old effort to make New Jersey a leading stem cell research state, Corzine and legislators said, is to seek voter approval next November of a referendum that would provide about $230 million for research grants.
Under the measure signed today, $150 million will go to build a Stem Cell Institute connected with Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark will receive $50 million for stem cell research facilities, the Garden State Cancer Center in Belleville will receive $10 million for a cancer research center, and the Eli Katz Umbilical Cord Blood Program in Allendale will receive $10 million for cord blood collection in support of stem cell research. A biomedical research consortium in Camden composed of Rutgers, the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, South Jersey Campus, will receive $50 million.
Contributed by Tom Hester
January 16, 2007
Spitzer Wants New York to Enter Stem Cell Race
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
ALBANY, Jan. 12 — Five years ago, the Bush administration decided to severely limit federal financing for embryonic stem cell research, a move that set off vigorous competition among the states to provide support for a research field that many scientists say could bring about major medical advances.
New Jersey was first out of the gate, pledging millions of dollars for stem cell research in the state. California raised the stakes with a huge $3 billion bond initiative, and other states followed with ballot initiatives or legislation to give scientists grants or to build research centers. Those efforts, supporters promised, would also bring in new jobs and tax revenue.
But New York — home to leading research universities, medical centers and biotechnology companies — has remained absent from the list. Legislative efforts in recent years to direct state money to embryonic stem cell research have stalled, and then fizzled.
Now, state lawmakers are preparing to move forward on what would be the most ambitious government-financed stem cell project on the East Coast.
In his first address to the Legislature, Gov. Eliot Spitzer called this month for passage of a $2 billion 10-year bond initiative for research and development, at least half of which would be set aside to pay for stem cell research. And the project is being tailored as an economic development effort in the hopes of attracting support from upstate Republican lawmakers.
Advocates for stem cell research say that if successful, the initiative — by pledging a sizable investment over a sustained period — would catapult New York to the forefront of the field. They also say that bringing the state’s academic and scientific institutions more into the research mix could have significant ripple effects across the country.
“The real value is that if New York is involved, you suddenly have an ability to make a leap in progress across the country’s best minds,” said David Bluestone, a spokesman for Americans for Stem Cell Therapies and Cures, a national advocacy group. “You never get advances from one lab in one state. You need this to be happening across all the states with the best research institutions. California can’t go it alone.”
The initiative, a centerpiece of the Spitzer administration’s economic development agenda, would have to meet the approval of the State Senate and Assembly before it could go before voters. Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, a former state senator, is to be in charge of shepherding that effort through the Legislature.
Besides the bond measure to pay for stem cell research, the administration has proposed a law to ensure the legality of the research within New York State.
Polls commissioned by supporters of the embryonic research show that overwhelming majorities of New York voters support state financing for it. But the administration may still face significant hurdles in the Capitol, and beyond.
Several times, the Democratic-controlled Assembly has passed legislation to finance embryonic stem cell research and ensure its legality.
Similar legislation proposed in the Senate in previous years by two Democrats from Manhattan, Mr. Paterson and Liz Krueger, never made it to the Senate floor, where legislative business is tightly controlled by the Republican majority leader, Senator Joseph L. Bruno.
Many members of Mr. Bruno’s caucus, however, support such research, especially senators from upstate cities desperate for the public and private investment it could spur.
In remarks in Albany last year to advocates of stem cell research, Mr. Bruno said he would support state funds for the research. He and Mr. Spitzer’s predecessor, Gov. George E. Pataki, called for an $800 million public-private research fund for research in medical and life sciences, to which the state would contribute about $200 million. But that never came to fruition.
Moreover, that proposal did not specifically protect or authorize money for embryonic stem cell research, instead leaving grant decisions to a board appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.
“We thought this approach was responsible and balanced,” said John McCardle, a spokesman for Mr. Bruno.
He said the Senate leader would wait until the Spitzer administration produced a formal proposal before taking a position. Mr. McCardle would not say whether Mr. Bruno would specifically support state financing for embryonic stem cell research, but said, “We’re wide open in terms of looking at what the governor will support.”
In a speech on the campaign trail last year, Mr. Paterson laid out details that the administration hopes will help assuage some voters’ moral qualms about the new proposal. The legislation, he told an audience at NewYork Presbyterian/Columbia hospital, would ban reproductive cloning and create an independent review board to devise guidelines for what research could be financed.
The grants themselves would be subject to peer review by a new Stem Cell Commission, which would also be responsible for enforcing the research guidelines. Those measures, Mr. Paterson said, would ensure that all embryonic research in New York was “legal, vital and ethical.”
Opponents of the research dismiss the precautions as insufficient and say that taxpayer money should go only to research on adult stem cells, which does not require the destruction of embryos.
Many scientists say, however, that adult stem cells are of limited value to researchers because they are less able than embryonic stem cells to develop into other kinds of cells, like skin or bone tissue, and do not multiply as readily.
The opponents also point to a study published online this month by the journal Nature Biotechnology indicating that some stem cells drawn from amniotic fluid donated by pregnant women could be as potent as embryonic stem cells, a breakthrough that may make the use of embryos unnecessary.
A spokeswoman for a group opposed to the Spitzer initiative, Kathleen Gallagher of the New York State Catholic Conference, said: “We are gravely concerned, and we would oppose such a bond act. We recognize that they say they will ban cloning, but what they’re talking about is banning the cloning of live born babies, but funding the cloning of human embryos that will be destroyed for research.” The conference is the public policy voice of the state’s Catholic bishops.
The stiffest resistance to the initiative, however, may come from voters worried less about the proposal’s moral implications than its cost. New York voters have historically been skeptical of bond measures, and according to a memo prepared last year by advocates of embryonic stem cell research, only half of the bond referendums proposed over the previous three decades earned voter approval.
Should the Legislature approve a referendum for this year, the measure would also be opposed by the state’s Conservative Party and by anti-abortion forces.
“The bond issues that are successful tend to be the ones that are very focused on tangible public services,” said Edmund J. McMahon, a fiscal analyst at the Manhattan Institute, a nonprofit conservative public policy center. “Bond issues that are soft-focused generally don’t do well.”
The stem cell initiative, he said, is “a mixed bag.”
“You have someone in office who is about change and fiscal discipline,” Mr. McMahon said of Mr. Spitzer. “But you have a state that already has a huge amount of debt.”
To win support for the initiative from upstate lawmakers, the administration is promoting it as primarily an economic measure. In his speech, Mr. Paterson cited upstate research universities and centers in Albany, Buffalo and Rochester, whose officials have lobbied heavily for more state money for the research.
“The best stem cell researchers in the country are in California, Wisconsin and New York,” said David A. Carmel, a supporter of the research who helped create the Spitzer administration’s proposal. “To have major restrictions on federal funding, and no state funding here — many talented researchers in New York are disgruntled with this state of affairs.”
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company