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Like many fellow California human embryonic stem cell researchers, I am looking forward to taking full advantage of the remarkable opportunity that the state's voters have offered us in the form of $3 billion in funding over the next 10 years. Long before the Stem Cell Research and Cures Act (Proposition 71) was passed, my colleagues and I started developing the infrastructure for human embryonic stem cell (ESC) research that we will build upon to seamlessly transform our underfunded operation to a major state-funded program.
The infrastructure is a group of interrelated projects that I collectively call the "Stem Cell Community," based on the belief that both scientists and the public will benefit from cooperation and communication. Because it is still small, the human ESC research community has an unprecedented opportunity to develop human ESC research as a true worldwide collaborative effort.
The Stem Cell Community is based at the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, Calif. The spirit of the Institute is reflected in the Stem Cell Community's mission to promote human ESC research through collaboration. We have five specific goals:
1) Train new scientists in human ESC research. In 2003 Philip Schwartz and I were awarded a grant for a human ESC training course, without knowing exactly how and where we would run it. The Burnham Institute donated the space to offer the intensive 10-day, 12-hour a day course for a dozen international scientists in April 2004. The second course, held this year at the Children's Hospital of Orange County, has just ended. To help meet the demand for training, we also offer private three-day one-on-one courses at the Burnham.
2) Foster a forum – the Southern California Stem Cell Consortium – for communication. Evan Snyder and Stuart Lipton initiated the Burnham's Program in Stem Cells and Regeneration in 2003. I met Evan and saw the Institute for the first time when I was invited to be the first speaker at his Southern California Stem Cell Consortium. The Consortium hosts monthly meetings featuring informal presentations on scientific, political, or ethical issues in stem cell biology. Many collaborations have been initiated among the more than 100 people from the San Diego and Los Angeles areas who attend the meetings.
3) Maintain a safe haven laboratory for non-NIH approved research. Equipment and supply vendors generously donated their products to help us establish our privately funded human ESC laboratory. The Burnham Institute provided the space and other support. We use this laboratory for derivation of new ESC lines and working with non-NIH approved lines.
4) Establish reliable, inexpensive assays for characterization and test them through a network of collaborators. Illumina, a biotechnology company in San Diego, offered us the opportunity to test their inexpensive whole genome expression assay on human ESCs. With collaborators at Illumina, the Burnham, and the NIH, we analyzed several different lines of human ESCs with the goal of developing a freely available database of ESC characteristics on our Stem Cell Community Web site. We hope to soon be able to offer the analysis at cost in return for immediate posting to the database.
5) Share data and information via the Internet. We launched the privately funded Stem Cell Community Web site
An advantage of the Stem Cell Community is that we will be able to put California state funds to use immediately, without having to establish a new infrastructure. An unexpected benefit is that by learning to do a great deal with very little, we know that we can continue to make progress even if the state funding is delayed by several lawsuits that must be resolved before the funding can be distributed.
Jeanne Loring (