I recently attend a conference in Florida called The World Stem Cell Summit. It was very enjoyable and unique in that it brings together and is open to all constituents of the stem cell world. I gave a couple talks and did an “expert” luncheon at this meeting, but what I enjoyed most was talking with people at the reception the first night and the awards dinner the last night.
In my first talk as part of a panel on the stem cell advocacy post-election agenda, I argued the field faces three key problems.
What are these three problems?
You can see my talk (at least the slides, not me) and hear my talk if you go here. I also said some other fun stuff about my blog, outreach to non-English speaking countries, and so forth.
However, I’ll also summarize them here.
First, we have a serious science funding problem. The NIH budget has been stagnant (in real dollars, but declining against biomedical inflation) or actually going down for quite a few years now. What this translates to is that the funding rates at most NIH institutes are abysmal. For example, to be essentially guaranteed of funding at NCI you need to be in the top 7%. Since most scientists I think would agree that about the top 25% of grants are meritorious, what this means is the majority of good science is going unfunded including that on stem cells of course. Every year we get closer to CIRM potentially ending its funding or shifting gears to become a private foundation with far less funds most likely, the NIH budget situation becomes more perilous as well. More broadly we have a generation of young scientists that are discouraged and an increasing number do not believe their future will be a bright one in science. That makes the future of science just that much less promising.
Second, we have what I call the Big Chill for hESC research. While the Sherley v. Sebelius case so far has gone our way so far at least (fingers crossed that the Supreme Court takes a pass), the net effect has been that hESC is in a freezer. The number of hESC papers is down. The number of scientists who want to work on hESC is down. Scientists view it as too risky. We still need hESC research folks so we need to advocate for it and make clear that iPSC have not somehow made hESC unnecessary. hESC are many years ahead of iPSC in terms of clinical translation.
Third, we have the push for stem cell deregulation. This poses a serious and growing threat to the legitimate stem cell field. If you think that rogue stem cell clinics just operate outside the U.S. you are wrong. If you think that rogue stem cells clinics in the U.S. do not affect or threaten you as an academic or industry scientist, you are wrong. Unlicensed stem cell clinics are sprouting up across the U.S. like mushrooms and with a static FDA budget, more and more patients are receiving unlicensed and untested treatments. More and more patients will be injured, possibly file suit, and overall lower the view of the American people of the stem cell field. We need legitimate stem cell scientists to publicly advocate for the FDA regulating more than minimally manipulated stem cells as drugs and against unlicensed clinics.