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International Leader Status Could Aid Californians

This year marks the third anniversary of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s strategic plan. The organization is required by law at that point to re-evaluate what it’s doing and how it hopes to accomplish its goals.

An eight-person panel convened in San Francisco yesterday to do just that, and that panel of outside experts will continue to meet with CIRM staff today and tomorrow, as well. Public comment at the meetings is welcomed.

California has become a world leader in stem cell research, in part because President Bush stopped the flow of federal dollars for this type of research, and California voters respondied by creating and funding CIRM, to the tune of $3 billion. The agency has invested about $1 billion of that money so far.

That investment will benefit the state in many ways and could end up helping many California patients directly, Don Gibbons of CIRM said.

“CIRM has turned California into the stem cell hub of world,” Gibbons said. “It’s creating a job engine for California, for one thing. And down the road, it could dramatically reduce health care costs.”

That includes direct costs to individual Californians for stem-cell therapies in the future, he said.

“Medi-Cal patients will have a special rate for any stem-cell therapies,” Gibbons said. “We’re required by law to provide broad access for Californians to any therapies developed with our dollars.”

Many uses and applications of stem cell therapy will be expensive, but Medi-Cal currently covers some big-ticket procedures, such as a bone marrow transplant, Gibbons said.

“So if you take a patient and cure them, when normally there’s about a $40,000 cost for a transplant, stem cell therapy might be more cost-effective.”

Gibbons also said there is stem cell work being done on osteoarthritis, where the current end therapy might be a knee replacement.

“Now, if you can grow back a little bit of cartilage,” Gibbons said, that would stave off osteoarthritis before it got to that point. “That would be a tiny cost, compared to a knee replacement,” he said. “It would reduce morbidity, increase quality of care, at a hell of a lot less cost than a knee replacement.”

According to Gibbons, the futuristic research being done at CIRM is not so far in the future. There are 14 different disease team projects currently being funded, he said, that hold the possibility of going to clinical trial just four years from now.

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