Two years after passing Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act, Californians accustomed to operating on Internet time have been witness to the reality check of political time.
While the state bond sale needed to raise the $3 billion investment in stem cell research lays idle because of pending lawsuits, California's scientific leadership, including UC Davis Vice Chancellor for Human Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine Claire Pomeroy, continue to make significant progress establishing the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency overseeing dispensation of Prop. 71 funds.
"The initiative process brought us a lot of attention," explains Pomeroy, "and one of its risks was raising public expectations about how fast this research would come to fruition. There's some frustration out there about delays, but thankfully what I don't see is our overall support waning."
In fact, UC Davis is moving ahead to put in place the infrastructure for a world-class stem cell research program.
"At UC Davis, we have a campuswide working group made up of representatives from the School of Medicine, the School of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Biological Sciences, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the California National Primate Research Center. Through it, we're planning new initiatives, new research buildings and hiring new staff," Pomeroy says.
While the campus continues to establish itself as a major contributor to stem cell research, progress at the state policy level is slow. Zach W. Hall, CIRM's president, is proud of what he and his team have accomplished in a relatively short time, but concedes the legal delays have grated.
"We have spent the past 18 months forming a new state agency and developing the processes and regulations for the grants we will be awarding. With the delays, we anticipate it will take us another year to get our funding in order. It's just amazing how a small group of people can hold up a $3 billion enterprise," Hall says.
After losing at the ballot box, opponents of the proposition immediately filed legal challenges.
"Although this litigation has unfortunately impeded the funding of stem cell research, the CIRM has continued to build the medical, scientific and ethical infrastructure necessary to support the research once funding is available," says Hall.
In addition to the legal action, the CIRM must carry forth the California electorate's vision of blazing the trail and draft first-ofits- kind procedures for ethical control, funding mechanisms and organizational structure.
As the CIRM continues to expand, it faces criticism from some of its longest running supporters in the state Legislature who worry about the institute marshalling additional resources through private fundraising and loans in the form of bond anticipation notes during its legal battles.
UC Davis alumna State Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), a long-time advocate for advances in all types of stem cell research, worries that CIRM operates without enough government oversight. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed her first legislative attempt to conduct an audit of the institute through the state auditor's office on technical grounds. Ortiz and nine of her colleagues have requested a Joint Legislative Audit Committee hearing on the issue. Those proceedings have yet to be calendared.
Despite the delays, UC Davis continues to assert itself as a leader in stem cell research and a major beneficiary of Prop. 71 funds.
"UC Davis has some wonderful assets in terms of stem cell research, says Hall, "I toured the campus and visited the California National Primate Research Center. I was really impressed with Dr. Alice Tarantal."
Tarantal and her team last fall won $6 million in grants from the NIH to fund a center of excellence in translational human stem cell research. "The new program and the existing primate facility will really be a source of strength for the campus," says Hall.
Pomeroy concurs. "There's no doubt one of our strengths will be the comprehensiveness of the campus. We've already hired a stem cell ethicist at the law school, which was a really unique initiative driven by Provost Virginia Hinshaw. Our excitement shows how the field of regenerative medicine has so many ways to have an impact. I'm honored to be a part of it."