In the movie ‘Field of Dreams’ the lead character, played by Kevin Costner, is told to turn his cornfield into a baseball field in the belief that “if you build it, he will come.”
Well, under a similar if less mystical guidance we helped the University of California Santa Barbara turn 10,000 square feet of antiquated lab space into a brand new, state-of-the-art stem cell research facility. And having built it he did come, the ‘he’ in question being one of the top stem cell researchers in the UK, Pete Coffey. (Here’s more about Coffey and others who were lured to the state.)
When the UC Santa Barbara Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering opened up it was the 12th and final research lab that CIRM helped fund around the state. Those facilities stretch from UC Davis in Sacramento in the north, to UC San Diego in the south. To do that we put in $271 million dollars, which the institutions used to leverage an additional almost $900 million in institutional funds and philanthropic contributions to complete the facilities. We have a list of all those facilities and the amount of money they raised on our website.
As former State Senator Art Torres, JD, Vice Chair of our Governing Board says in our press release, “Those buildings not only created world class research facilities, they also provided thousands of new construction jobs at a time of record unemployment in that industry, and they generated new tax dollars for the state.” An estimated $100 million in taxes to be precise.
We helped support the building of new labs for a number of reasons. One, having the best facilities can help attract the best scientists to work there. And secondly, at the time we decided to make these awards under our Major Facilities Grant Program there were strict rules on embryonic stem cell research that meant researchers could only use NIH funding to work on a small number of pre-existing embryonic stem cell lines. This effectively prevented them from working on new cell lines, severely limiting their ability to advance the science.
CIRM decided to help the leading research institutions around California create new, ‘specialized’, research facilities where they could use CIRM or outside funding to work with new embryonic stem cell lines – or any other kind of stem cell. Obviously the political scene has changed since then but the need for state-of-the-art facilities hasn’t. That’s why these 12 new specialized research labs are still so important; they can attract top scientists from around the US and indeed the world, to California.
That’s what has happened at a number of the new labs around the state, including UCSB, which used the promise of a new lab and a CIRM new Leadership Award to recruit Pete Coffey, PhD, from the University College of London in the UK, where he was considered a rising star in the stem cell research field. He’s part of a team with researchers at the University of Southern California who are working on a stem cell therapy for macular degeneration.
In a UCSB news release to mark the occasion Coffey said:
“To be part of UC Santa Barbara at this time is extremely exciting. Today we’re actually opening the center for stem cell biology and engineering, bringing two components together which are not available anywhere else in the world, engineering and stem cell biology together, to transform and actually speed what is very dear to my heart, which is the translation of science to it’s clinical use.”
Having the best facilities and researchers is still no guarantee of success. But it certainly increases the odds. As Damon Runyon once said: “It may be that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong – but that’s the way to bet.”
We’re betting they do great things at UCSB and at the 11 other new research facilities we helped build.
This video talks about the 12 facilities and the jobs and tax revenues they created: