A chat with 'Dr. Stem Cell'

In 2004, with President George W. Bush dead set against stem cell research, California just went ahead and did it. Voters made stem cell research a state constitutional right, and endorsed $3 billion in bond sales for 10 years to cement the deal. CIRM, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine created under Proposition 71, has become a world center for stem cell research, and its president is Australian Alan Trounson, a pioneer in in vitro fertilization. As Proposition 71 approaches its 10-year anniversary, Trounson offers a prognosis.

Q: It's been almost 10 years since California funded what may be the world's biggest stem cell research program. What are you up to?

A: We are working hard to get six or seven projects to clinical trials. We have more than 70 (total) programs moving (toward) clinical trials. It's a lot of work to chaperon.

I'll give you three examples: one, linking genetics, or genomics work, to stem cells, integrating the two. We're going to create a center in California that will bring a lot of (genetics) studies and clinical work to a new level.

Secondly, we've set up a structure for banking the 3,000 cell lines from "induced pluripotent stem cells" that we turn into the equivalent of embryonic stem cells. We call them IPS cells. You take a skin cell or blood cell and convert it to the equivalent of an embryonic stem cell.

We've also taken samples from patients with complex diseases, and we're banking these so scientists can "interrogate" these diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer's, blindness. We are targeting a range of conditions autism, cerebral palsy for which we have scant understanding of causes and major drivers. This is material for long-term research studies.

What we're doing is meaningful. Somebody with cancer may have a better treatment. Parkinson's patients might be in a clinical trial around 2016, 2017.

Q: Are Californians getting enough bang for their buck?

A: I think we're way ahead of what people predicted. Nevertheless, it takes a lot of time to do this. I think we're hurrying carefully.

Q: What else?

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A chat with 'Dr. Stem Cell'

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