Suit Puts Future of Stem Cell Research on Rocks

Stem cell research in California is under attack from taxpayer groups attempting to stall the state’s voter-approved research initiative through the courts.

Greg Dale/Guardian file

The California Family Bioethics Council, one of the two plaintiffs in a lawsuit attempting to block the bonds, insisted in court hearings last week that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which has the authority to dole out $3 billion in stem cell research funding over the next decade, lacks state control over the public funds.

However, Robert Klein, chairman of the board that supervises the institute, stated in a press release that the state controller has provided effective oversight since the birth of the organization. The University of California appoints five of the committee’s 29 members, with the bulk appointed by elected state officials.

So far, the stem cell agency has yet to grant any research funding because of its legal troubles.

UCSD professor Larry Goldstein, who helped write the state proposition that created the agency, said that all questions regarding the board’s formation and finances were answered with the approval of the initiative. The lawsuit, he said, was a special-interest effort by groups that is costing time and blocking the advance of research projects.

“That argument was debated and lost during the election,” Goldstein said of the objections brought forth in the lawsuit.

Although stem cell research is in an “infancy stage” and progress has been slow, Goldstein said that research and full federal approval of stem cell research can take anywhere from five to 15 years.

The initiative would make UCSD a hub of progressive research, according to Chancellor Marye Anne Fox.

“It’s safe to say that this new investment will advance stem cell research at UCSD and other UC campuses,” Fox stated in a press release when the initiative was passed in 2004.

Critics, however, do not share the university’s optimism.

“Venture capitalists, private industry — they’re not going to fund something that has no promise,” Life Legal Defense Foundation Executive Director Dana Cody on the group’s Web site. The Life Legal Foundation and the CFBC branded stem cell research a questionable practice.

“We think it’s not approved technology,” Cody said.

The council also questioned the use of taxpayer money, which might not be spent for stem cell research but rather for whatever “vital research opportunities” the board chooses to approve, according to the CFBC’s Web site.

Scientists need to identify a good opportunity and follow it in the hopes of finding cures for people that die every day of diseases, Goldstein said.

“We owe people a fair try,” he said.

The case against the state agency could last anywhere from 12 to 18 months.

Readers can contact Agustina Ugelstad at [email protected].