As Indian-Americans, there are certain chronic conditions to which we are susceptible. These include blindness, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer.

Luckily, California’s stem cell program helps us fight back.

Officially titled the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM, it is a citizens’ initiative, invented by patient advocate Bob Klein. Originally funded at three billion dollars, the funds have now been exhausted. We must decide whether to renew it and give it more funding, or let it die. We can save it by voting YES on Proposition 14, which will renew funds and the stem cell program

What is its value? Let’s watch it in action, against three chronic diseases that pose severe risks to Indian-Americans.

The first risk, Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), is a common form of blindness, and one that strikes Indian-Americans especially hard. It begins as a tiny dot in the eye, barely visible. But with time it expands, eventually enlarging to the size of a coin, and followed sometimes by total blindness.

For CIRM scientists, AMD is a challenge, not a stopping point. Working cooperatively, Mark Humayun, Amir Kashani, and David Hinton of the University of Southern California, and Dennis Clegg of the University of California at Santa Barbara are studying therapies for dry AMD, while Pete Coffey of University College, London, in the UK is focused on treating wet AMD. Both groups are trying to replace dysfunctional cells of the eye with fresh ones. What was their approach to fighting blindness?

“An eye patch,” said Peter Coffey, “Like repairing a bicycle tire. Put a layer of stem cells on a sticky plaster, add that to the back of the eyeball.” Is it working?

“Our first patient could only read one word a minute. Today, four years later, he can read 80 words a minute,” said Dr. Coffey.

“Because of CIRM, we are restoring biology to a level where people no longer just exist, but actually live, because of the treatment.” –“Revolutionary Therapies”, Don C. Reed, World Scientific Publishing, Inc.

A second condition common in Indian-Americans, hypertension (a type of fatal heart disease), is being fought with a CIRM grant. 

A report continues, “Michael Lewis [and] a team at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center [are] using donor heart cells to reduce two hallmark symptoms of pulmonary hypertension: inflammation and high blood pressure in the blood vessels within the lungs. These conditions make the heart struggle to pump blood to the lungs and can ultimately lead to heart failure. This treatment aims to delay the progression of the disease.”

A third condition is prostate cancer. The co-author of this piece, Don Reed, had prostate cancer, but it has not returned, after his treatment with surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy, but there are more deadly forms.

Fortunately, CIRM is finding ways to fight back.

A company called Poseida was funded by CIRM in its late pre-clinical stages to help reinforce the body’s natural defense cells, the T cells, (part of the immune system) to “more efficiently target, bind to and destroy the cancerous cells. CIRM’s early funding led to the ability of Poseida to carry its studies into clinical trials.

CIRM is designed to rigorously review experts’ proposals and meet important scientific milestones. Everyone – including the public – can comment.

Stem cell research has the power to help tens of millions of people suffering from an incurable disease, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, spinal cord injuries, blindness, infectious diseases like COVID, and many others common in the Indian-American population.

How can you help?

CIRM is running low on funds. If its work is to continue, there must be a new initiative— Proposition 14, the California Stem Cells for Research, Treatments, and Cures Initiative of 2020. Vote for Proposition 14 and help save lives!

To be voted on this November, it will renew 5.5 billion dollars in funding for CIRM, paid for by the sale of tax-free government bonds. Only ½ of one percent of the state’s available bonds will be used, leaving 99.5 percent available for other purposes.

This initiative is NOT a tax. Spread out over several decades, the total will be barely $5 per person per year – a small price to pay to potentially save millions of lives and billions of dollars in the future. As Bob Klein puts it, the cost of a bottle of aspirin.

Please join the more than 70 patient advocate groups, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, doctors, and educators (including the University of California board of regents) in recommending Proposition 14: the California Stem Cells for Research, Treatments and Cures Initiative of 2020:

Do it to save lives. Do it for someone you love.

Vote YES ON 14!

Yuvraj Walia is a 14-year-old supporting Prop 14! He is a Freshman at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont and currently serves on the Patient and Medical Advisory Committee for Prop 14, to renew funds for the state stem cell agency, CIRM.

Don Reed is Vice President of Public Policy for Americans for Cures Foundation. He is also the author of the book, California Cures! How the California Stem Cell Program is Fighting Your Incurable Disease!