Stem cell Prop. 71 saved lives. It’s successor, Prop. 14, will save more—maybe yours.
Those who argue that Proposition 14—which will continue to fund stem cell research that foresightful Californians approved in 2004 via Proposition 71—is no longer necessary unfortunately have a narrow view of stem cell science.
All one needs to do is to think back to our world before California’s emergence as the “Mecca” for this science to realize how different—for the better —we are and can continue to be in this state.
These accomplishments extend beyond the numbers. Yes, CIRM has enabled more than 90 clinical trials involving more than 4,000 patients with more than 75 diseases; produced more than 800 patent applications; published more than 3,000 contributions to scientific knowledge in the form of peer-reviewed papers; and created numerous new jobs, companies and programs that drew tax-paying citizens to California from other states.
And yes, there have been actual cures. Bone marrow transplantation is a stem cell-based therapy that has the ability to cure conditions such as sickle cell anemia, “bubble baby” disease, certain cancers, metabolic diseases, even HIV. CAR T-cell therapy, one of the newest and most exciting cell-based treatments against a range of cancers, is a stem cell-based therapy. Novel drugs can now cure formerly incurable cancers because they attack cancer stem cells.
And indeed, there are now treatments on the horizon for devastating maladies. People living with spinal cord injury, brain conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke; eye conditions such as macular degeneration; psychiatric disorders; diabetes; even COVID-19, can hope for a better future because of stem cells’ ability either to address the problem directly, or to make therapeutic “caregiver” molecules, or to better model the disease(s) to enable novel drug discovery.
However, stem cell biology’s most profound legacy is likely how it has changed society’s vision of itself. When it comes to our life, we have come to view ourselves not as rigid beings, but flexible, malleable creatures who accept no boundaries—because we know the repairing power of stem cells.
Alzheimer’s patients are no longer institutionalized but rather placed in enriched environments. Children with autism are given aggressive early intervention. Parkinson’s patients are taught ballroom dancing.
We are encouraged to exercise into old age and to take up challenging tasks to keep our brains sharp. All of these notions are stem cell biology’s contribution to our very nature and our perceptions of being human.
Indeed, passing Proposition 14 may have the greatest immediate and lasting impact on most Californians’ well-being than any other measure on the ballot. And our use of these life-saving strategies is once again being threatened in Washington D.C., just as it was in 2004. Please continue this life-saving research by voting Yes on Proposition 14.
Evan Snyder, M.D., Ph.D., is professor and director of the Center for Stem Cells and Regeneration program at Sanford Burnham Prebys. He is regarded as one of the “fathers of the stem cell field” and was named a “stem cell revolutionary” by Forbes. Snyder was the first to isolate human neural stem cells, which will soon be tested as a treatment for premature newborns, and served two terms as Chairman of the FDA's Cellular, Tissue, and Gene Therapy Advisory Committee. His lab explores the basic biology of stem cells and their therapeutic potential, particularly for brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and bipolar disorder.