"With these words, and in this spectacular venue, I hereby announce my candidacy for state senator of the great state of California," said the muscular man in the wheelchair, Roman Reed, my son.
We were at the Awards Banquet of the 9th Annual World Stem Cell Summit.
It was not a political meeting. Bernie Siegel, the founder of Genetics Policy Institute and the Summit, goes to great lengths to make everyone welcome, regardless of their political persuasion, and as usual, he had succeeded. Attending were representatives of forty nations: a global advancement of regenerative medicine.
In that audience were giants of the stem cell research world, men of unparalleled generosity like Malin Burnham and Denny Sanford, whose extraordinary financial gifts had meant life for the Sanford-Burnham Consortium. Sanford's gift of $100 million had just stunned the stem cell world.
Some were honorees; all were honored.
When my son Roman Reed received his award from the Genetics Policy Institute, I knew he would tell the story of his accident and the law he inspired: the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act. I was sure he would mention the law patterned after "Roman's Law" in Alabama, the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Act.
Perhaps he would even mention his years of service in local government, building a background of practical knowledge, so crucial in getting things done.
But I had no idea he would take the opportunity to announce his candidacy for California state senator.
Some moments are beyond pride.
Paul Knoepfler, America's premier blogging stem cell scientist, told how surviving cancer helped him realize the importance of taking on challenges--like sharing science issues in language everyone can understand.
Jeanne Loring was there, which was no surprise--she was everywhere, speaking at or moderating on no less than seven panels. Jeanne is always embarking on new and tremendous projects--her latest goal is the Stem Cell Matrix, to catalog and characterize all the working stem cell lines in the world. Of approximately 237 approved for NIH funding, only about 20 are fully characterized, says Dr. Loring, and she would like to do that for all of them, because their differences make a difference. Naturally, she needs a grant for such a project. Her asking price for such a colossal endeavor? "I would like my costs to be covered," she said.
Bob Klein had spoken earlier, stressing the urgency of a patient advocate network ready to speak on behalf of the research as it begins human trials. When the HIV/AIDS research began, the patients made clear they knew some would die along the way--they were dying already, and research was their only hope.
As always, there was a chance for patient advocates to share what works--and what doesn't--in raising funds for medical research. Judy Roberson fights Huntington's disease with systematic energy; Alex Richmond of Children's Neurobiologic Solutions reminded us of the youngest sufferers of chronic disease.
An entire new industry, biomedicine, is growing stronger, championed by leaders like Stephen Minger of General Electric, Devin Smith of Pfizer, Alain G. Vertez of NxR Biotechnology--and Mike West of BioTime, Inc., who essentially began the business of turning hope into cures when he founded Geron, Inc., in 1990.
Many had careers spanning the globe, like Edward Holmes, CEO of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine AND Executive Deputy Chair of a biomedical government agency in Singapore, a small country in size, but gigantic in its impact on research. Singapore's Biopolis is a city dedicated to bioscience...
With forty nations represented at the summit, almost every continent was heard from. Dr. Fanyi Zeng, Associate Director of the Shanghai Institute of Medical Genetics, gave a concise but wide-reaching summary of China's involvement and accomplishments in stem cell research; Fabiano Arzuaga of the University of Buenos Aires is undertaking research on the regulation of stem cell research in Latin America; David Fransen, the Consul General of Canada spoke all too briefly on some of that country's many accomplishments in our field; Japan was massively represented by at least a dozen scientists, including Norio Nakatsuji, famous for his embryonic stem cell research; the booming research of the sovereign state of Qatar was highlighted by Abdelali Haodi, executive director of the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute; Rosalia Mendez-Otero, recipient of the Medal of the National Order of Scientific Merit from the President of Brazil; Avi Treves of Israel, co-author of more than 90 scientific publications and 10 patents--too many more to mention here.
Mahendra Rao, Director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine, gave us a 20,000-foot-level look at the National Institutes of Health.
Brock Reeve, Executive Director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, shared some of the problems and possibilities of fund-raising.
Evan Snyder, considered one of the fathers of the stem cell field for his decades of massive endeavor, once confessed to me that the reason he became a scientist was that a pretty girl once told him that scientists looked sexy in their labcoats!
Mary Ann Liebert was there! Anyone who has the slightest interest in serious science knows the Liebert publishers--more than 70 scientific magazines published today. And there she was, honored by the Genetics Policy Institute--and a roomful of cheering readers of her astonishingly many publications.
The magnificent California stem cell program was well-represented: cheerful Chairperson Jonathan Thomas, always making new friends for the cause;
President Alan Trounson, who spoke with passion on the urgency of ending HIV/AIDS--"We must eradicate it!" he said;
Amy Adams, veteran science writer who works to make sense of the issues surrounding the research;
Kevin McCormack, official "translator" for the CIRM;
Elona Baum, Vice President of Business Development, crucial as Biomed turns theories into therapies;
Ellen Feigal, Vice President for Research and Development: every California scientist should bring her flowers in recognition of her tireless efforts;
Don Gibbons, whose 12 years of work as Harvard's Associate Dean for Public Affairs makes him invaluable as Communications Officer;
Uta Grieshammer, Science Officer, working on the development of a stem cell bank;
Ian Sweedler, the man to talk to about CIRM and international cooperation;
Geoffrey Lomax, Senior Officer for Medical and Ethical Standards;
Board Member Dr. Oswald Steward of the Reeve/Irvine Research Center, spinal cord injury expert and overseer of the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act--and many more, including scientists who owe the continuation of their work to a grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
It was difficult to pick out highlights of the World Stem Cell Summit--it was all highlights.