Stem cell research may soon accelerate


In new research, human stem cells have been coaxed to grow into cardiac muscle cells by researchers at the Gladstone Institute at UCSF.

"So intermittently you'll see these clusters contract and squeeze just like a human heart cell would. So these are the types of cells we hope to introduce into patients someday to help their hearts squeeze better," said Deepak Srivastavia from the Gladstone Institute.

Srivastavia says the lab, where the stem cell work is taking place was opened less than six months ago with money provided by CIRM -- the agency created by California voters, to help pay for stem cell research in the state including new lines derived from embryos after 2001, for which the Bush administration prohibits federal funding.

"Because of that, we've seen a relatively slow pace of discoveries. Hope is that there will be more money available, and that will accelerate the discovery," said Srivastavia.

President-Elect Barak Obama has already indicated that he will rescind President Bush's executive order, limiting embryonic stem cell research.

Robert Klein, Chairman of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, confirmed to ABC7 News that members of Obama's transition team have already contacted the California group regarding stem cell policy.

"We think it's phenomenal to have an administration and Congress that across the board supports embryonic stem cell research along with adult stem cells and cord stem cells, the entire spectrum of this area of regenerative medicine," said Klein.

He expects House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to push for passage of a stem cell research bill as an early priority, freeing up money from the National Institutes of Health.

The bill would most likely limit research to embryos currently stored in fertility clinics, which would eventually be destroyed anyway.

Some critics also hope the administration to shake-up the FDA, which must approve proposed clinical trials on stem cell therapies for conditions like the spinal injury suffered by the late actor Christopher Reeve.

"Today there's trial ready for humans sitting at the FDA that the Bush administration blocked. 45 days from now, when there's a change in administration. I expect that trial to move forward," said Klein.

And even in these difficult budgetary times, there is new hope in the bay area research centers, that an infusion of federal money could accelerate already promising research.

"It's not just an added effect on new money, but a catalytic effect and more people become involved, because every discovery builds on another one," said Srivastavia.

The investment California voters made in creating CIRM, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is also paying some financial dividends.

Its directors say the organization has now forged agreements between research centers in California and countries around the world, which is bringing in new money for collaborative projects.

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