CIRM FAQ

For questions related to CIRM 2.0, please visit our CIRM 2.0 FAQ page.

What is California's stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM)
What does the stem cell agency do?
How much money have you spent so far?
What has the agency funded?
Why did the agency fund new buildings?
Has the agency made money for the state?
What diseases are you working on?
When will there be cures?
What happens when the funding runs out?
What organizations are eligible to receive funding?
Can the funding be used for human reproductive cloning?
Does stem cell research harm human embryos?
Shouldn't private industry fund stem cell research?
Doesn't the NIH fund stem cell research?
How can I stay up to date about the agency's activities?
Can I donate to California's stem cell agency?

What is the stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM)?

CIRM, California's Stem Cell Agency, was created by the voters of California in 2004 when they passed Proposition 71, which authorized $3 billion in funding for stem cell research in California. The agency funds stem cell research at institutions throughout California with the goal of developing new therapies for deadly diseases and disorders. Here is the text of Proposition 71.

What does the stem cell agency do?

The agency uses money from bond sales to accelerate the pace of stem cell research in California. The agency doesn't carry out research itself. Instead, it solicits research proposals and funds research, training and new facilities throughout the state. A list of all our funded awards is available here.

The ultimate goal of our programs is to fast-track treatments to patients with unmet medical needs. By promoting and encouraging the growth of the stem cell biotechnology sector, the agency has also helped attract the best scientists to the state and established California as the global leader in stem cell research.

Find Out More:
Stem Cell FAQ.

How much money have you spent so far?

The amount of money we've committed is the amount of money that our governing board has agreed to spend on all awards. However, most of those awards are for research that takes place over an average of two years. We give out funds based on the research team reaching set milestones, rather than in one lump sum. That allows our science officers to monitor the projects and terminate funding if the researchers aren't reaching their milestones, thereby saving money for the state.

Find Out More:
Where CIRM Funding Goes

What has the agency funded?

We believe it is critical that the vast majority of our funds go to advance the research itself. In support of this goal, we have also funded the creation of much-needed scientific facilities, as well as programs that train tomorrow's stem cell scientists.

When we were created in 2004, there were few facilities in California where scientists could work with all types of stem cells, and few scientists had access to labs that contained all the equipment needed to do this specialized work. One of our earliest rounds of funding went to build lab spaces that could be shared by researchers within the institution and by visiting scientists. Those spaces are also used to train scientists how to work with stem cells.

Training was (and is) needed to build the field and create the next generation of stem cell scientists. New therapies won't happen without people trained to work with stem cells who have both the technical skills and the equipment they need. We now have programs to train high school students, college students, graduate students and early career scientists.

Most of our funding goes to the research itself. In the early years, because this was such a new field much of the funding was focused on fundamental, basic science, to help develop a deeper understanding of stem cells and how they worked. More recently we have begun to move the most promising ideas that came out of that earlier funding into human clinical trials – the last step before getting treatments into patients.

Find Out More:
How our funds have been allocated.

Why did the agency fund new buildings?

When California's stem cell agency started in 2004, little research space existed where scientists could work with all types of stem cells and that contained the equipment needed to work with the cells and – most importantly – develop new therapies. Stem cell scientists were also spread thinly across many research campuses, limiting interactions and slowing the spread of ideas. One of the greatest needs therefore was laboratory space for these scientists to work and collaborate.

The agency provided $271 million toward 12 buildings throughout the state, requiring the institutions to contribute the remaining $884 million to construct and furnish the buildings. That money largely came from donations from individuals or foundations that were inspired by the agency's initial commitment to contribute toward the project. This public/private partnership created much-needed work for the construction industry and new, full-time jobs for researchers and other staff.

Find Out More:
CIRM-funded facilities and the major donors to each.

Has the agency made any money for the state?

The agency's grants create jobs in California and have expanded the biotechnology industry – propelling California as a world leader leader of stem cell research. Our grants for new buildings also created construction jobs at a time when the state desperately needed them.

An independent analysis found that the agency's major facilities program alone created 13,000 job-years (this is economist-speak for creating the equivalent of 13,000 jobs that last one year, or 6,500 jobs that last two years) and brought in $100 million in tax revenue. Our other programs create research positions, and positions associated with the fast-growing biotech industry here in California. More broadly, by 2014 our programs are expected to have created more than 38,000 years of jobs and generated $285 million in tax revenue in California.

The tax revenue that results from the agency's funding goes directly into the state's general fund, where it pays for the interest on our bonds as well as other programs in the state.

As our funding begins to lead to the development of new therapies, a portion of the profits from the sale of those therapies will also be returned to the state. And of course because these therapies are treating diseases that currently have no effective remedy we will also be reducing the health care burden on California, reducing medical spending and improving the quality of life for people in the state.

What diseases are you working on?

There are a wide variety of diseases that CIRM-funded scientists are working on, including those that post the greatest threat to Americans. These include heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, among others. We are also working on diseases that affect far fewer people but are no less deadly and which are largely untreatable, such as Huntington's disease, sickle cell disease, autism, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS).

Find Out More:
Disease pages for more about how stem cell treatments stand to benefit diseases
All CIRM awards that you can filter by disease area.

When will there be cures?

The path from a scientific discovery to a new cure is on the order of decades or longer – although sometimes discoveries can move quickly to the clinic. For example, James Thompson and his team first generated human embryonic stem cells in 1998 and the first trial based on those cells started in 2010 – a remarkably fast timeline for new therapies.

The reprogrammed iPS cells that earned Shinya Yamanaka a Nobel Prize in 2012 were only discovered in 2007, and are expected to be entering clinical trials in the next few years. Similarly, trials based on work by CIRM-funded teams using tissue-specific adult cells are already underway and, if those trials are successful, will reach patients in a matter of years.

Research funded by the agency is moving toward patients at an accelerated pace because CIRM works closely with our teams to help them overcome any obstacles they face as they move their research from the lab to the clinic. These obstacles include scientific and technical challenges as well as regulatory hurdles and even matters of reimbursement, namely who will pay for the treatment once approved. We provide a continuous source of funding so that promising therapies don't languish while researchers seek out new funding sources. We also work with the FDA, which regulates clinical trials, to help our grantees understand the regulations and succeed at bringing new therapies to patients.

Many staff members here at CIRM also have friends and family members with incurable diseases – and like everyone else are impatient to see new therapies approved. However, shortcuts in the path to new therapies can result in treatments that harm patients rather than helping them. That's why we are working to remove the barriers that slow research without compromising safety.

Find Out More:
How we are smoothing the path to new therapies

Proposition 71 gave you $3 billion over ten years. What happens when the money runs out?

Right now the agency is exploring a number of different options to try and ensure that we are able to continue funding stem cell research after the money allocated to us by Proposition 71 runs out. Those include raising funds from philanthropic sources and partnering with industry to enable us to continue our mission.

SB1064 required CIRM to create a transition plan for when our funds run out.

Find Out More:
CIRM Transition Plan

What organizations are eligible to receive funding?

Any California-based research institution or company may apply for funding.

Organizations that only have facilities outside of California are not eligible for CIRM funding. However, the agency does have collaborative funding partnerships with other funding agencies – international countries and states as well as U.S. states and foundations. Researchers in those states or countries apply with California investigators for CIRM awards, with the other funding agency paying for the research that takes place outside of California.

Find Out More:
All organizations that have received CIRM funding.
All stem cell grants awarded by CIRM.
List of CIRM collaborative partnerships.

Can the funding be used to fund research on human reproductive cloning?

No. Reproductive cloning is specifically prohibited under Proposition 71 and under California law.

Does stem cell research harm human embryos?

Almost all human embryonic stem cell lines come from four-to-five day-old embryos left over from in vitro fertilization (IVF). During IVF, researchers mix a man's sperm and a woman's eggs together in a lab dish. Some of those eggs become fertilized and begin developing. At about five days the egg has divided to become a hollow ball of roughly 100 cells called a blastocyst, which is smaller than the size of the dot over an "i." It is these very early embryos that are implanted into the woman in the hopes that she becomes pregnant.

The hollow blastocyst – which is where embryonic stem cells come from – contains a cluster of 20-30 cells called the inner cell mass. These are the cells that become embryonic stem cells in a lab dish. The process of extracting these cells destroys the embryo.

Don't forget that the embryos were donated from IVF clinics. They had either been rejected for implantation and were going to be destroyed, or the couple had decided to stop storing the embryos for future use. The embryos used to create embryonic stem cell lines were already destined to be destroyed.

There is, however, a second method that creates embryonic stem cell lines without destroying the embryo. Instead, scientists take a single cell from a very early stage IVF embryo and can use that one cell to develop a new line. The process of removing one cell from an early stage embryo has been done for many years as a way of testing the embryo for genetic predisposition to diseases such as Tay Sachs. This process is called preimplantation genetic testing.

Why are we paying for stem cell research, shouldn't that be a job for private industry?

State and national governments have a long history of being involved in the kind of pioneering research that private industry is unable or unwilling to do. Private industry has to focus on the financial return, making them unlikely to fund high-risk projects. Government agencies can fund research with a focus on benefits to the public rather than on making money.

At the Federal level the government's support was vital to the success of the Human Genome Project, and funding from the NIH led to the development of 15 of the top 21 drugs introduced between 1965 and 1992.

Private industry tends to focus on projects that are in later stages of development. Without funding for the earliest stages of discovery there will be no stem cell therapies making it into those later stages where private industry becomes involved.

Scientists have referred to the stage right before industry becomes interested as the “Valley of Death”. It's an area where promising therapies often languish, because there isn't enough federal funding to push the projects through to the later stages. CIRM is very focused on funding the early research that leads to therapy ideas, and we fund projects that are in the Valley of Death stage, helping to keep good projects on track toward the clinic. We also work with industry to fund later stages that verify promising therapies and begin clinical trials in people.

Find Out More:
The Therapy Development Pipeline

Doesn't the NIH fund stem cell research?

The NIH and other federal agencies do fund stem cell research and do play a vital role in driving scientific discovery. However, they have very broad research interests. With CIRM's focus on stem cell research we are able to work closely with academics and industry to craft our funding programs in a way that accelerates the field. Our programs are timed so that researchers with successful projects will have continuous funding from the basic laboratory research through beginning clinical trials. The NIH tends to focus more heavily on early stage research, leaving scientists with promising ideas the unfortunate option to pause their research and look for new sources of funding as the projects get closer to clinical trials.

CIRM also works closely with our research teams to help them navigate regulations leading up to clinical trials, and to find industry partners to help fund the later stage research. This ability to focus on accelerating stem cell research toward clinical trials is only possible for an agency with CIRM's mission.

The NIH is also restricted in the types of research it can fund. Unlike the NIH, CIRM funds the creation of new stem cell lines, lines that have been critical to the success of some research programs.

How can I stay up to date about the agency's activities?

We have several ways of keeping people up to date on our research progress.

  • Sign up for our email lists. We have four different lists that provide people with information about CIRM news, new funding opportunities, and opportunities to attend public meetings.
  • Read our blog, The Stem Cellar. We report on progress by CIRM grantees and update readers on the field of stem cell research.
  • Follow us on social media. We have active Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr channels

Can I donate to California's stem cell agency?

Under Proposition 71, CIRM can accept donations of "additional revenue and real and personal property [including cash], including, but not limited to gifts, royalties, interest, and appropriations that may be used to supplement annual research grant funding and the operations of the institute." To implement this section, the ICOC has adopted a policy and procedure on the acceptance of donated real and personally property.

Find Out More:
CIRM Gift Policy [pdf]

Is your question not answered here? Please contact CIRM directly.