Comments on California as a Stem Cell Hub

Regular readers of the Longevity Meme news will recall we pointed out an ongoing initiative to put major multi-billion dollar funding for stem cell research into the California state budget:

California to Become Stem Cell Hub? (Saturday February 07 2004)
SFGate comments on continuing efforts to allocate significant state funding to regulated embryonic stem cell research in California. Large sums of money, billions over the next decade, are mentioned, although the small print would seem to indicate that this will not kick in for a few years even if the necessary funding measures are passed. California is in the midst of a budget crisis in any case, which would seem to make any such long term planning speculative at best. If the Federal government carries forward with plans to ban this research, there could certainly be fireworks.

Stem cell research is, of course enormously important to our future health and longevity. It is likely to be the foundation of the first wave of meaningful medical technologies for extending healthy life span. (Largely by repairing damage rather than through preventative methods). Despite the efforts of governments worldwide to ban stem cell research or the vital technology of therapeutic cloning, scientists have demonstrated an amazing array of cures and therapies in trials and the laboratory.

On one level the California funding initiative can be seen as a part of the continuing backlash against anti-research policies pursued by the federal government under the current administration. On the other hand, California is something of a country unto itself on some issues, its politicians disliking heavy handed interferance handed down from above. On the third hand, special interests and their lobbyists never hesitate to take advantage of governments that seem ready to tax and spend. Politics as usual, in other words. Given the current state of the California budget, however, I remain dubious that multi-billion dollar proposals - even for the hottest modern medical research - are going to be an easy sell to elected officials. Even if sold, signed and voted into law, the chances of the program later being quietly defunded have to be good.

My thinking on California as a state funded stem cell hub - expressed in a fairly compact way in the Longevity Meme post - was challenged by Peter Christiansen, who made some good points in an e-mail to me today:

I would like to ask you to clarify something about the California stem cell bond initiative. I have read everything put out by the campaign committee for this initiative, at least everything that I could find on the web, and I did not find any fine print about the money that would be raised by this bond issue not kicking in for a number of years. As I understand it (and I have not read the actual text of the initiative itself), if this initiative is approved by California voters, this bond issue, as is the case for other bond issues in California, would be sold immediately and the money raised, $3 billion dollars, could then be spend over or up to the next ten years depending on the pace of stem cell research in California.

It is true that the state of California is presently broke but that really has nothing to do with the sale of bonds. Bonds issued by the state of California are exempt from taxes, both state and federal taxes, and are always in big demand. If the state's financial situation were to continue to worsen, this would only cause the interest rate on the bonds to increase, which will make them only that much more in demand.

Again, you may have more information about this matter than I do, in which case I would very much appreciate a clarification.

The great significance of the California stem cell research initiative (and incidentally, every public opinion pool taken in California on the subject of stem cell research shows decisive support for it), is that while some states, including California, have "legalized" stem cell reserch, this initiative would include a massive infusion of cash for research. Because of opposition by the Bush administration, and the uncertainty this has created, the biotech industry has been understandably reluctant to put much money into stem cell research. Three billion dollars would almost certainly stimulate more investment.

Again, you may know more about this than I do, but based on what I do know at this point about the California Stem Cell Bond initiative, this is something that every Californian, and even people living in other states, who are interested in longevity, should actively support.

So we shall see; I have some reading and research to do on the topic before commenting again. If any of our readers have more to add on this proposal, please do go ahead and speak your mind.

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