Calif. stem cell research discovers white elephant
By Wayne Lusvardi
Now that stem cells have become obsolete, can California’s entrenched stem-cell research bureaucracy be phased out? Or will it continue as a white elephant as the state’s budget deficit problems worsen?
Last week it was announced that, for the first time, heart scar tissue resulting from a stroke had been changed back to normal muscle without using stem cells. This new method is called RNA reprogramming.
Dr. Victor Dzau, a Duke University professor of medicine and chancellor of health affairs, said it this way: “Right now, there’s no good evidence stem cells can do the job” (of regenerating damaged cells). And RNA reprogramming apparently regenerates tissues without the dangerous side effect of creating tumors as stem cells do.
The new method developed at Duke uses a simpler way of regenerating cells than using stem cells. It simply reprograms the RNA in the damaged cells of tissues back into normal cells. This new method could potentially treat a variety of diseases, injuries and chronic conditions.
RNA is an abbreviation for ribonucleic acid. RNA acts as a messenger from the genes (DNA) in the nucleus of the cell to the ribosome, where proteins are refashioned for specific uses in the body. Using RNA as a messenger to reprogram proteins is like updating the software in your computer.
Stem cells are master cells that produce all the different cells in the human body. It is harder to find out what a stem cell is and does or control it than it is for RNA.
This newer RNA method of tissue regeneration has made stem cell research obsolete.
Back in November 2011, the Geron Corporation announced it was pulling out of conducting any more stem cell research. Geron had spent $150 million over 10 years with nothing to show for all its stem cell research. Geron was the California-based company that the state’s Proposition 71 was especially designed to fund.
Prop 71 as ‘Irrational Exuberance’
In 2004 California voters approved Prop. 71 for $3 billion in stem cell research funding over 10 years. Prop 71 was designed as an amendment to the state constitution to make it difficult to dismantle it. The father of Prop. 71, Robert Klein, renamed it the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to give it a private sounding name. Prop 71 was sold to the public during the “go-go” Real Estate Bubble, promising cures for cancer, heart disease, and paralysis.
Shirley Tilghman, the president of Princeton University, warned back in November 2004 that stem cell research was a version of “irrational exuberance,” just as the subprime loan mania was.
The start up of stem cell research was delayed due to lawsuits over the use of human embryos to harvest stem cells. Soon after the stem cell institute was funded, it erected a large new stem-cell research facility at the University of California-San Francisco campus costing $123 million. This signaled that the California stem-cell institute had become a permanent part of the state’s bureaucracy. And with its new building came all the incurable bureaucratic pathologies of self-perpetuation. The California stem-cell institute has become like a stem cell with cancerous bureaucratic growth.
State-Funded Stem Cell Research Is a Jobs Program
The $300 million per year in public-funded stem cell research is a mere drop in the ocean of $78.9 billion in bio-med research funding in California in 2008. State-funded stem-cell research reflects merely 0.4 percent of all bio-medical research in California. State-funded stem cell research was not only minuscule, but also redundant — and thus unnecessary.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has cut use of cell phones out for many state employees, saving about $41 million per year. Why does he not call for voters to rescind Prop, 71 for $300 million of obsolete stem cell research a year? Instead, Brown has called for cuts in welfare rather than in the provision of luxury public goods and programs such as stem cell research.
The November 2012 election has a ballot initiative, Proposition 29, that proposes to add an extra $1 tax on each pack of cigarettes purportedly for medical research. If passed, look for those funds to be diverted to perpetuate California’s stem-cell research bureaucracy funding.
Science has made stem cell research mostly obsolete. Will California keep up with science, or perpetuate a jobs program while health and welfare programs are cut?
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I’m all for technological advances. In fact, I’ve slowly come around to the wild-sounding idea that scientific breakthroughs just might
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