Monday, March 9, 2009

Stem cell shopping list in hand, UC Davis scientists wait for Obama to lift the ban

By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg,, Published: Monday, Mar. 9, 2009 - 12:36 am
Well before word emerged that President Barack Obama would lift the ban on federal funding for most embryonic stem cell research, UC Davis scientists had already chosen four stem lines they're planning to order.
One is well suited to growing into cells affected by Parkinson's disease, and another could aid research into Huntington's, said Jan Nolta, director of stem cell program at UC Davis health system.
The other two are better suited to general research, and all bypass the problems of the dozen or so federally authorized embryonic stem cell lines that are reproducing well, Nolta said.
"We're really ready," she said, noting that Obama had long indicated he opposed former President George W. Bush's ban on research funding for all but a few of the oldest stem cells derived from human embryos.
"The next day that's signed, they'll be on their way to us," Nolta said.
The stem cell lines UC Davis has chosen were developed using nonfederal funds, including bond money authorized by California voters to pay for stem cell research that the federal government has long rejected.
Obama's decision means "a shorter path to the clinic" for potentially life-changing stem cell cures, because researchers have solved some of the time-consuming problems posed by older lines.
Although private foundations, California's voter-funded Institute for Regenerative Medicine and others have paid for stem cell research that the federal government would not support, spending that money has been complicated.
No federally funded resource – not a pen, not a watt of electricity, not a sophisticated flow cytometer – was allowed to be used in working with unauthorized embryonic stem cell lines.
That meant scientists who, for example, worked with stem cells derived from adult tissue as well as with unauthorized stem cells had to segregate everything. It meant duplicated equipment and costly tracking, Nolta said.
She estimated that if UC Davis researchers had plunged full bore into working with all types of stem cells, it could have cost an extra $6 million annually.
So mostly, the university has stayed away from the politically problematic cell lines, focusing on building facilities and staff with money from the state, and waiting for a change in federal policies.
Some researchers could use special, segregated areas to do a little work on the federally spurned embryonic stem cells, Nolta said.
Instead, most have waited – until now. read more

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