Yes on Proposition 14: Help us build the Bridge to Everywhere (in biomedicine)

By Dr. Amy Sprowles, Dr. Jacob Varkey, and  Dr. Trevor Cardinal

In a recent clinical trial for an immune cell therapy for lymphoma, 62% of patients experienced complete cancer clearance- in spite of that fact that some of them were on their fifth line of treatment. For those patients, the results were nothing less than a miracle. But it could also be so much more.

Let yourself daydream for a moment — think about a time in the near future when immune cell therapy is the first line treatment. Think about the lives saved — the patients who lost their fight before getting to a fifth line treatment. Think about the improved quality-of-life for those who receive cell therapy instead of aggressive chemotherapy. Let the daydream expand for a moment to include other areas of regenerative medicine on the horizon: genes, cells, and tissues working in concert with our own bodies to do what unhealthy cells are incapable of doing on their own. Insulin-producing cell therapy for diabetics, insulation of nerve cells for spinal cord injury patients, gene-modified blood stem cells for sickle cell patients, the study of COVID-19; the list goes on and on.

Proposition 14 has the ability to turn these dreams into reality. While we are witnessing a medical revolution, supported in large part by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), we can’t be satisfied by miraculous clinical trials … those are just the beginning. The ultimate revolution will be when a physician can just as easily grab a bag full of therapeutic cells as they might draw a drug into a syringe. For this revolution to fulfill its promise, Californians need to pass Proposition 14 because it will get us to the end goal: the routine delivery of safe and effective regenerative therapies to patients by their physicians. Proposition 14 is leading this movement by keeping CIRM alive. Conceived through Proposition 71 in 2004, the Institute serves as a vehicle to support all aspects of stem cell research. The CIRM board had the foresight to know that medical progress will require not just well-designed, evidence-based clinical studies, but also a powerful and well-trained workforce, educated at the intersection of stem cell biology, engineering, and chemistry. This workforce, with their interdisciplinary training, will develop, manufacture and deliver regenerative therapies to the public, enabling that easily grabbed “bag of cells.”

Since 2008, CIRM has supported the training of nearly 1,300 community college and California State University students for the emerging field of Regenerative Medicine through the Bridges to Stem Cell Research and Therapy Program. As directors of these programs, we have seen first-hand how the Bridges Training Program has created a pathway for first-generation and underrepresented students from Humboldt to San Diego, to all of the biomedical sectors — startup and cell therapy companies, academic research institutes, graduate and medical school, and more.

The Humboldt State University CIRM Bridges Program has trained over 500 undergraduates in and supported 100 student internships in the field of regenerative medicine. The HSU CIRM Bridges students have participated in research that has led to potential therapies for major medical conditions including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, macular degeneration, spinal cord injury, and even COVID-19. If you consider that California spends nearly $30 billion on diabetes alone, the cost of $36,000/student is an excellent return on investment.

Consider Cody Kime from Eureka. After military service he prepared for medicine at Humboldt State University by training in molecular, stem cell, and developmental biology. He joined the Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco as one of the first HSU CIRM Bridges interns and later entered the Kyoto University of Medicine to study translational medicine in the lab of Masayo Takahashi at RIKEN. Cody earned his Ph.D. in Medical Science and is now Dr. Kime, leading a team of researchers dedicated to using stem cell biology to develop next-generation medical technologies.
With CIRM’s unprecedented training support and the determination of the Bridges alumni, we are building a powerhouse for therapy development. We can’t stop now. By leveraging the robust infrastructure already established at California State Universities and Community Colleges, and the strong partnerships with academic and industry labs, Proposition 14 will continue to train a diverse, motivated, and educated future workforce. In contrast to the much maligned Los Angeles “Bridge to Nowhere,” CIRM’s Bridges to Stem Cell Research & Therapy represents the very best in public spending — an investment in training the future (and current) leaders of Regenerative Medicine.

Dr. Amy Sprowles and Dr. Jacob Varkey are co-directors of the Humboldt State University CIRM Bridges Program. Dr. Trevor Cardinal is director of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo CIRM Bridges Program.

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