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California Takes Lead in Stem Cell Research, Scientist Recruitment

Since California passed a $3 billion bond measure for stem cell research, recruitment of top scientists has outpaced every other state. The new funding has sparked the building of state-of-the-art facilities and a push for stem cell innovations.

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  • SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent:

    It was a coup when Japanese stem cell researcher Shinya Yamanaka agreed to work at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco. Yamanaka is considered one of the world's top scientific pioneers.

    He is one of almost 50 stem cell researchers who have been recruited recently to work in California labs. They're taking part in a new gold rush, sparked by the passage in 2004 of a $3 billion state bond issue to finance stem cell research, far more than any place else.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: I have made this decision with great care.


    The state money was meant to get around President Bush's 2001 restrictions on federal funding of research that severely limited the embryonic stem cell lines that could be used.

    STEVE WESTLY (D), Former California State Controller: The eyes of the world are on California today.


    The state agency set up to disperse the funds was sued, tying up the money for two years, but it is finally starting to flow. Even with the lawsuit, the research never stopped, fueled by loans and donations. But it's even more intense now, says Dr. Irving Weissman, the head of Stanford's Stem Cell Institute.

    DR. IRVING WEISSMAN, Stanford School of Medicine: It's exploding, because now the best and the brightest young people are starting to believe they have a chance to be here in the United States and do this research. So the loan money that came a year ago and started the training of those young people allowed us to develop the facilities, allowed people like my lab and other labs to start getting into this field, because we could do it without the restrictions of the federal government.


    Embryonic stem cells are human cells that are capable of becoming specialized cells, like liver or brain. They hold great promise of curing disease and of providing insights into how cells work. Their use is considered by many researchers a revolution in medicine.

    But getting cells from discarded human embryos that are only a few days old and small as a grain of sand has provoked moral objections, since the embryos die. Yamanaka's breakthrough that made him a hot recruit was to find a way to program the skin cells of adult mice to act like embryonic stem cells, or ES cells.

    He came to California so he could use embryonic cells to prove his findings. That's something he couldn't do in Japan. He intends to see if the results with mice can work with humans.

  • DR. SHINYA YAMANAKA, Gladstone Institutes:

    Human cells are different from mouse cells in many aspects. I would predict that it is more difficult to make ES cells from human skin cells than from mouse skin cells, but we don't know yet.

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