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Have State Stem Cell Programs Been Effective in Boosting Research?

February 19, 2015

Over the past decade stem cell research has been touted as a game-changer in the life sciences and a potential fount of new biomedical innovations. As a result, several states have launched targeted programs to support stem cell research, despite the controversy that tends to surround the field. New research suggests that these programs have been effective at increasing the output of researchers in their respective states. State investments in California and Connecticut have helped researchers outperform their colleagues around the country, according to a recent paper published in Cell Stem Cell. Programs in New York and Maryland did not have quite the same impact, but helped research output in those states keep pace with other states.

Authors Hillary B. Alberta, Albert Cheng, Emily L. Jackson, Matthew Pjecha and Aaron D. Levine examine the impact of stem cell programs in California, Connecticut, New York and Maryland, though the study also acknowledges efforts in Illinois and New Jersey. Over the past 10 years, each of these states has invested in basic and translational stem cell research for the stated purpose of advancing the science and creating jobs. The programs in Illinois and Maryland were omitted because those initiatives have since ended.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is the oldest of these efforts, and, by far, the largest investment a state has made in stem cell research. CIRM was launched as a $3 billion commitment over 10 years, beginning in 2006. Connecticut's Stem Cell Research Program, also a 10-year commitment, began the same year, with a planned $100 million in targeted research support. The Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund and the New York Stem Cell Foundation were launched in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

In California and Maryland, the launch of these programs led to a large boost in research output. Before CIRM, California was already the national leader in human embryonic stem cell research. About 25 percent of all academic articles in 2002-2003 had at least one California-based author. By 2008, Californians contributed to about 40 percent of articles, a rate that continued through the end of the study period in 2013. Connecticut had not yet emerged as a stem cell research leader in 2006, but the share of research articles with Connecticut-based contributors rose steadily throughout the same period. After both programs became active, 55 percent of stem cell research articles with a California author acknowledge CIRM's contribution, while 67 percent of studies with Connecticut-based authors mentioned the Stem Cell Research Program.

While the effects of state intervention were less pronounced in New York and Maryland, the authors note that those states managed to remain competitive even as research began to concentrate in fewer states. They also suggest that California and Maryland's success might be due to their status as "first-movers" in the field. If true, this would have significant ramifications for other states considering large, targeted investments in emerging technologies. By moving early and providing a consistent source of funding for research, a state can capture a key competitive advantage in a field before the potential benefits begin to disappear.

Read Assessing State Stem Cell Programs in the United States: How Has State Funding Affected Publication Trends online or purchase download ($31.50)...

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