San Francisco to Host New Stem Cell Research Center

San Francisco wins the heated competition for California's new stem cell research institute, which will spend three billion dollars on stem cell projects over the next decade.

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San Francisco was the front-runner, and today it won the heated competition for California's new stem-cell research institute. Besides bringing new scientific prestige to the Bay area, the institute will spend $3 billion on stem-cell projects over the next decade. As NPR's John McChesney reports, it all started when a businessman launched a California ballot initiative that made the stem-cell institute possible.

JOHN McCHESNEY reporting:

Robert Klein is a real estate developer, not the professional background you might expect for the man behind California's bid to become the stem-cell research capital of the world. But Klein's mother has Alzheimer's disease, and his son has juvenile diabetes. So when the Bush administration greatly restricted federally funded human embryonic stem-cell research, Klein went into action. He authored a ballot proposal which was passed by 59 percent of California's voters. He also lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

Mr. ROBERT KLEIN (Author of Ballot Proposal): In San Francisco, we have the greatest aggregation of biotech expertise in the state. We have 89,000 jobs within this region, centered around San Francisco, and that's a tremendous resource for hiring for the institute's staff.

McCHESNEY: San Francisco's international character is another reason Klein and the site selection committee chose the city over its principal rivals, San Diego and Sacramento.

Mr. KLEIN: There are 84 embassies in San Francisco. This is a global platform for stem-cell research that is being created.

McCHESNEY: Klein says the rich heritage of medical research at Stanford University and the Universities of California in San Francisco and Berkeley were also decisive in choosing the City by the Bay. And San Francisco threw in a lot of freebies in its bid for the institute: 10 years of free office rent, free lab space, free conference facilities and free or discounted hotel rooms for the international conferences the institute will host. But the new institute will have a staff of only 50 people and will do no research itself, so why have the state's cities been so eager to have it? Klein suggests one reason.

Mr. KLEIN: You can only provide grants to companies in California, and they have to spend it in California. So being a California company is not enough. You have to spend the money in California. We're looking to create California jobs while we are accomplishing this mission.

McCHESNEY: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom hopes that having the institute in his city will create a biotech renaissance here to offset the lingering aftermath of the dot-com bust. His assumption is that since the money has to be spent in California, researchers and companies will want to be near the hub of stem-cell research activity and commerce created by the institute.

Dr. Arnold Kriegstein is the director of the pioneering stem-cell program at the University of California, San Francisco.

Dr. ARNOLD KRIEGSTEIN (University of California at San Francisco): Symbolically it would make a significant impact to have San Francisco viewed as a center for stem-cell research here in California.

McCHESNEY: He feels that the new institute will jump-start stem-cell research in the United States and says California universities are gearing up for the newfound largesse.

Dr. KRIEGSTEIN: It has already created a great deal of excitement in the state. It's started institutions thinking about organizing programs, bringing in resources, bringing in intellectual resources by recruiting people here and really starting ambitious programs.

McCHESNEY: Dr. Kriegstein offers one more reason for San Francisco being the right choice for the home of the institute: It's a gateway to Asia.

Dr. KRIEGSTEIN: A lot of the pioneering efforts in human embryonic stem-cell work is actually taking place in Asia: Korea, Singapore, to some extent China. And San Francisco has always had a traditional relationship to that part of the Pacific Rim.

McCHESNEY: Opponents of human embryonic stem-cell research have gone to court to challenge the institute, but director Robert Klein says he's confident that millions of dollars in grants will soon start flowing to researchers. John McChesney, NPR News, San Francisco.

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