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Beyond Advocacy: Oct. 12 symposium, Stem Cell City

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  • Beyond Advocacy: Oct. 12 symposium, Stem Cell City

    Stem cell city
    Willie Brown to host national symposium.
    By Jo Stanley | Staff Writer
    Published on Friday, September 17, 2004

    The City will once again be thrust into the national spotlight when former mayor Willie Brown hosts a conference this fall tackling one of the hottest and most confusing issues of the day -- stem cell research.

    The Bush administration's decision to limit funding in this area of promising medical research "put this topic in play," said Brown, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area where biotechnology was born, venture capitalist money is abundant and The City's scientific research campus, Mission Bay, lies waiting for new tenants.

    In fact, city officials are so eager to make San Francisco a major biotechnology hub that supervisors this summer voted to grant a special payroll tax break for new companies locating in The City, and Mayor Gavin Newsom has suggested streamlining the permit and regulatory process to help capture part of California's $7.8 billion in biotech revenues.

    But the new technologies are not without controversies or critics, as hundreds of demonstrators at this spring's Bio 2004 conference proved.

    The Oct. 12 symposium at Fort Mason will bring heavy hitters: Former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and Ronald Reagan Jr. have been lined up to host the event, which brings together not just scientists and business leaders who support the research but political and philosophical opponents for the sake of debate.

    "I thought the topic was serious enough that it ought to move beyond the advocacy role," Brown explained.

    The former mayor said that it took some reassuring to persuade guests such as William Hurlbut -- a Stanford University doctor currently on the President's Council on Bioethics and a staunch opponent of any steps toward human cloning -- that they wouldn't be steamrolled by stem cell research supporters.

    One of the main speakers on the scientific challenges and possibilities of the nascent technology will be the new head of the University of California at San Francisco's Stem Cell Biology Program, Dr. Arnold R. Kriegstein, who recently arrived from Columbia University. UCSF is one of only two research schools in the country to qualify for federal funds to support research on existing embryonic stem cells.

    Other medical research facilities, unless self-funded, are limited by federal funding to adult stem cells that are only capable of regenerating cells that perform the same functions they do. The embryonic cells, since they're not specialized already, could potentially be adapted to many useful therapeutic purposes, according to the scientists.

    The timing of the conference is not coincidental, since Proposition 71 is on the state ballot for Nov. 2 and would provide hundreds of millions of dollars each year for stem cell research. But while Brown said he will vote for Prop. 71, his intention with the symposium is to foster "quiet, reflective" dialogue among key players of varying viewpoints.

    The conference is the first public event for the former mayor's newly created Willie L. Brown Institute on Politics and Public Service.

    Prop. 71
    Proposition 71 on the upcoming November ballot is the biggest attempt by a U.S. state to create a

    massive medical research effort.

    What will be funded:

    $3 billion in human embryonic stem cell research grants
    Human cloning experiments intended only for medical research purposes, while banning cloning intended to create humans
    What will be created:

    A state medical research institute, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine
    A 29-person board, the Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee, to govern the institute
    Source: Prop. 71 Web site

    "We have a chance to take a giant stride forward for the good of all humanity" in the next election. "We can choose between the future and the past, between reason and ignorance, between true compassion and mere ideology."- Ron Reagan Jr.

  • #2
    If Prop 71 is successful, there will be a huge stimulus for stem cell research in California. Wise.