Update on Stem Cell Person of the Year Award 2014

stem cell logoThis year is my third year handing out a Stem Cell Person of the Year Award.

The winner each year should be the top, most positive, outside-the-box influencer in the stem cell.

Each year it doesn’t get any easier picking just one winner from the groups of amazing finalists chosen by the readers of this blog. It’s like being a kid in a candy store as the finalists are so incredible.

I’m close to picking the winner and will announce the Stem Cell Person of the Year 2014 here on the blog on Tuesday, November 4th. The winner receive both recognition and a $2,000 prize.

Stay tuned!

Top 10 Halloween costumes that scare scientists

Grant GhostSome scientists might be relatively immune to the fear of things that nonetheless freak out many everyday normal people: brains, lasers, genetically modified bacteria or viruses, radioactivity.

The list goes on and on.

So as Halloween approaches, what does scare the heck out of scientists?

Here is my list of the top scariest Halloween costumes to freak the lab coats off of scientists.

  • The Ghost of grants “not discussed” (it was a good grant, really!)
  • The Outlier (that data point that ruins everything)
  • The Monster Teaching Load (think of “The Blob” and run)
  • The Third Reviewer (if you just do these 23 new experiments….)
  • The Sequester (leave my precious funding alone!)
  • The Ghost of grants past (you say it expired?)
  • The Grim Scooper (how could you scoop us…we’ve been working on this for four years…)
  • The Zombie Committee Chair (they want your brain)
  • The Idea Pirate (where’d you get that hypothesis?)
  • The Hulk (you know the one who angrily wants to crush you for getting into their “territory” and has 30 people in their lab, always has tons of NIH grants and CSN papers every year and the one to which reviewers compare you)

Map Shows Geographic Surprises in Votes for Stem Cell Person of the Year Award

Stem Cell Person of the Year Award map

With over 4,000 votes cast to select our top 12 finalists for the 2014 Stem Cell Person of the Year Award from more than 50 different countries, how did the votes from various countries play out?

You can see on the map above the top vote getter(s) from the countries that cast the most votes. The more votes overall that a country cast, the dark green it is shown.

In cases where voting was similar amongst several candidates I listed more than one candidate.

For Central Europe, the Pope won out in several countries. Notably, Parmar got the most votes in Northern Europe, the UK, Canada, Australia and Italy. Takahashi got the most votes in Spain. Fasano led in the US, closely followed by Lanza, who was also amongst the top vote getters in votes cast from Canada. Harada led in Brazil. William and DeGette in India. Blogger JuuichiJigen and Endo in Japan.

CIRM 2.0 Launches Alpha Clinics & Continues Bridges Program

CIRM issued a press release (PR) a few days ago unveiling CIRM 2.0, a new form of the agency and funding of novel efforts.

The PR focused on action by its Governing Board to fund three Alpha Clinic programs for $8 million each at City of Hope (LA), UCLA, and UCSD. The Alpha Clinics will make a huge difference in moving clinical stem cell research forward.

The only potential hiccup in this exciting development is that the three Alpha Clinics are all within a very short distance from each other in Southern California, unfortunately leaving Central and Northern California potentially without any CIRM Alpha Clinics at all.

CIRM 2.0

When I first proposed the idea of CIRM 2.0, I envisioned a form of CIRM that had a streamlined focus on clinical translation, but a continued commitment to training and the stem cell community. We can see that a trend toward that coming to life under Randy Mills’ leadership. I hope to have an interview with him soon on his vision for the future of CIRM and the stem cell field.

From this CIRM PR, I’m glad to see that the Bridges Program will continue as that is something that I’ve advocated for recently. It’d be great on the training front if the CIRM T32 training programs could also be continued, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

Overall, CIRM 2.0 is a very positive step from the California stem cell agency.

Here is the text of the CIRM PR:

Stem Cell Agency Unveils CIRM 2.0 – its Aggressive Plan to Significantly Accelerate Promising Therapies. Invests $24 Million To Create Alpha Clinic Network

October 23, 2014

Los Angeles, CA – The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state’s Stem Cell Agency, today took two important steps towards speeding up the development of effective treatments for patients in need.

First, C. Randal Mills, Ph.D., the agency’s President & CEO, unveiled the Agency’s plans for CIRM 2.0, detailing an approach that would dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to approve funding for a potential therapy heading into a clinical trial.

“Right now it can take almost two years for a promising idea to go from the application to the final funding stage. That’s just unacceptable,” says Mills. “We are going to shorten that to just 120 days. But we’re not just making it faster, we’re also making it easier for companies or institutions with a therapy that is ready to go into clinical trials to be able to get funding for their project when they need it. Under this new system they will be able to apply anytime, and not have to try and shoehorn their needs into our application process.”

Mills says the more streamlined process will start with projects ready for clinical trials but, with Board approval, a variation on the process will eventually be extended to all other areas of research that the Agency funds.

“Speeding up the process is only one part of CIRM 2.0,” says Mills. “We also want a process that ultimately delivers higher quality programs. The goal is not just faster but also better investments that have the greatest opportunity to provide patients with effective treatments.”

The Agency’s governing Board also voted to award $24 million to set up three new clinical trial centers. The awards, part of the Agency’s Alpha Stem Cell Clinics program, are to create one-stop centers for clinical trials enabling patients to have safe, fast and easy access to life-saving or life-changing stem cell therapies.

“Everything we do has one simple goal, to accelerate the development of successful treatments for people in need,” says Mills. “Stem cell therapies are a new way of treating disease; instead of managing symptoms, cellular medicine has the power to replace or regenerate damaged tissues and organs. And so we need to explore new and innovative ways of accelerating clinical research with stem cells. That is what we hope these Alpha Stem Cell Clinics will accomplish.”

The clinics will be centers of excellence that will not only have the clinical and regulatory expertise needed to deliver what, in many cases, will be the first-in-human clinical trials, but will also have the trained personnel, state of the art facilities and the support, patient care coordination and long-term follow-up that these therapies need.

The awards of $8 million each go to the City of Hope near Los Angeles, the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, San Diego.

The Board also voted to continue funding for another year the Creativity Awards and the CIRM Bridges to Stem Cell Research Awards programs. The Creativity program gives high school students, many from poor and low-income communities, a paid summer internship to help introduce them to stem cell research. The Bridges program offers research and training opportunities for undergraduate or Master’s level students to develop a skilled workforce for stem cell research in California.

Ebola prevention hits home

Ebola preventionHow are all the thousands of hospitals around the world and here in the US gearing up to deal with the potential arrival of a patient with Ebola?

The importance of this issue and how it is resonating so strongly in the medical field hit home for me a bit more a few days ago as I was walking in front of a local medical clinic and saw the sign at left.

In a way it is an unsettling sign because it illustrates the threat, but at the same time it is good to know that careful measures are being implemented.