On Nov. 17, the University of California made its five appointments to the Independent Citizens Oversight Commission, which will be overseeing the Stem-Cell Research Institute that has been created in the state following the passage of Proposition 71. The proposition will provide the state $3 billion over the next 10 years for stem-cell research. Much of the research will take place at UC campuses.
UCI Chancellor Ralph J. Cicerone appointed Susan V. Bryant as UCI’s representative to the commission. Bryant currently serves as dean of the School of Biological Sciences and is also a professor of developmental and cell biology.
UC campuses with a medical school – including UCI, UC Davis, UCLA, UC San Francisco and UC San Diego – were each allowed to appoint one member to the 29-member commission. According to Bryant, the board for the ICOC should be established by Dec. 17.
Under Proposition 71, $3 billion in bonds will be allotted toward stem-cell research, averaging to approximately $300 million per year for 10 years. According to Bryant, the first installment of $300 million is expected to be available for use in April, 150 days after the Nov. 2 elections.
Once the entire board has been appointed, it will be begin accepting proposals for funding. The board expects the first proposals to be requests to fund the construction of facilities for stem-cell research.
Although the state will incur more debt with this proposition, Bryant believes that Proposition 71 and stem-cell research will be extremely beneficial to the world of science and medicine.
‘Stem cells are important because they have complete potential to form anything,’ Bryant said. ‘The goal of this is to cure some pretty serious diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, spinal cord injury, brain damage after stroke and a lot of other possible disease targets, such as diabetes.’
Bryant believes that the United States is already behind other countries on stem-cell research, but hopes that Proposition 71 will help change that.
‘This country has kind of stalled out in stem-cell research after the restrictions in 2001. Other countries are going ahead very fast,’ Bryant said. ‘One of the things you have to worry about when there’s a major paradigm shift in medicine going on is that a lot of intellectual property will be coming out of these discoveries and the United States won’t be part of it.’
Not only will stem-cell research help the U.S. economically, but it will also help save lives.
‘There is a potential here to be able to cure hundreds of millions of people in the future if we can understand how to manipulate stem cells to benefit humans, which we believe we can do,’ Bryant said.
Bryant also believes that Proposition 71 will help recruit more students and faculty who are interested in stem-cell research because of the funding that it will provide.
‘The situation that existed before Prop. 71 passed was a great disincentive to people [who were thinking] about going into stem cell research as a career because the funding future was very uncertain,’ Bryant said. ‘But now, that uncertainty has been removed. There is obviously a great will to fund stem-cell research in California and apparently now other states are beginning to think about similar initiatives.’
Bryant already expects UCI to hire four or five more faculty members who will specialize in stem-cell research because of the funding provided by the proposition. Bryant also stated that she has already received many responses from the UCI community who are interested in participating in stem-cell research.
‘When I called a meeting for people who were interested in stem-cell research back in the summer, there were about 80 respondents,’ Bryant said. ‘They weren’t all faculty members, but some were graduate students and postdoctorates on campus who already have an interest in stem cell research, so it’s quite a large community.’
Although a majority of Americans voted in favor of Proposition 71, Bryant is aware that people are still against stem-cell research for ethical reasons.
‘They don’t have to participate in the benefits of it if they are very opposed to it. I actually wish that I could find a way for them to see the benefits to humanity,’ Bryant said. ‘I believe the greater good is in the direction of stem-cell research because although you have to destroy this microscopic cell, which if implanted and nurtured properly, could become human, the benefits to humanity outweigh that.’