Science in the Ballots: Proposition 14


November 3, 2020. I’m sure you’ve seen this date in the news or through the constant reminders on social media by your politically-charged friends. The large buzz around the upcoming General Election is understandable. Before you click off since this is seemingly just a political article, I promise you it’s not…it’s more on how science and politics intertwine.

Rather than focusing on presidential candidates, let’s talk about other components of your ballot: Propositions! Propositions or statewide ballot measures are items you’ll be voting on that have the ability to influence various aspects of your community. (Yes, elections are more than just voting for a new POTUS!)

Now for the science part. Proposition 14, the Stem Cell Research Institute Bond Initiative, is a measure that aims to authorize bonds to continue funding stem cell and other medical research. If voters vote to approve Proposition 14, this will ensure that $5.5 billion will be allocated towards stem cell research and therapy development, medical training, and the construction of research facilities.

The allocation of state funds to stem cell and medical initiatives isn’t something new. Various researchers have benefited from previous bonds guaranteed by measures similar to Proposition 14. So what good has this funding done? To best understand the implications of Proposition 14, I decided to interviewed a PhD student at UC Davis whose research experience was funded by bonds similar to that mentioned in Proposition 14. I believe that a firsthand account of their research experience would give me better insight on this ballot measure. See below for the interview:

Q1: What research project(s) of yours was funded by bonds similar to Proposition 14? What is the overall significance or broader implication of this research project?

My project was to investigate the immunoregulatory properties of exosomes derived from head and neck cancer stem cells. Head and neck cancer are the 6th most common form of cancer and is linked to tobacco and alcohol consumption. Following treatment, there is up to 50% chance of recurrence of the cancer and [median] survival for these patients is less then 22 months. This is thought to be due to the treatments (chemotherapy and radiotherapy) killing off the bulk of the tumor but leaving behind these more resistant stem-like cells called cancer stem cells. The cancer stem cells then give rise to new cancer cells and repopulate the tumor. Cancer stem cells [have] resistance [to] chemotherapy and radiotherapy [and are] able to evade the immune system, making use of newer immunotherapies ineffective. Investigation into cancer stem cells and how they regulate the immune system during this process is critical to increasing survival of people diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

Q2: How did you personally benefit from funding through bonds similar to Proposition 14?

I was funded for my research as a part of the CIRM Bridges Stem Cell Program through a bond similar to Prop 14. This allowed me to focus solely on my research and not have to work another job to support myself through my master’s degree. Additionally, the program paid for me to attend conferences and disseminate my research. This provided me [with] an amazing opportunity as a budding scientist and trained me to continue to try and come up with therapies to treat patients with unmet medical needs.

Q3: If funding for stem cell and other medical research was decreased, what impacts do you anticipate this could have?

The field of stem cells is still relatively new and through the funding from bonds similar to Prop 14, we are able to train the next generation of scientists and doctors and fund the research to discover cures. Stem cells have so much potential to help treat and even cure a number of diseases. There are people who have been cured from a life-threatening disease from clinical trials funded by CIRM. Without this funding, that wouldn’t have been possible.

In the world of research, research funding is extremely competitive and without funding through CIRM, it will be even harder. This means that [fewer, potentially life-saving] research projects will be funded.

From this interview, I learned that Proposition 14 is important in continuing support for stem cell and medical researchers who are working on advancing medicine. From cell-based therapies to drug developments, the possibilities that can be uncovered by this type of research are immense. It also allows for researchers to continue to develop necessary skills to be able to contribute to advancements in the field. A lack of funding can lead to a halt in progress in these fields. If you’re a researcher, you know how funding is a necessity. However, if you’re not a researcher, hopefully you’re able to see how funding is imperative in supporting the efforts of these individuals finding ways to improve the quality of life for medical patients through their work.

Overall, the upcoming election does impact the scientific community and beyond. There are a multitude of ballot measures that have implications on other areas within your community. I encourage you to continue to be informed and to exercise your right to vote on November 3.

For more information regarding Proposition 14 and other ballot measures, please visit: https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ballot-measures/qualified-ballot-measures

For information regarding voter registration, please visit: https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting-resources/voting-california/registering-vote