California dreaming for finest in stem cells

February 4, 2005

Researchers fed up with the British winter may soon have their heads turned by a smiling US academic with access to billions of dollars of research cash, writes Anna Fazackerley.

Robert Dynes, president of the University of California, arrives in Britain in April to meet alumni. He also plans to lure stem-cell researchers back to the sunny, liberal state, which will provide $300 million (£160 million) a year for research over the next decade.

Professor Dynes, who is credited with turning Arnold "The Terminator" Schwarzenegger, the Govenor of California, on to science, told The Times Higher he was hoping to "sniff out" talent.

He said: "I'd be interested in 28-year-olds and big names too; you need to take the whole spectrum. We want people with a really good idea that is off the wall.

"Just as people came to California 150 years ago, I'd like them to come again."

President George W. Bush's Administration opposes human embryonic stem-cell research, but last November Californians broke away and voted for a state initiative known as "Proposition 71", which committed $3 billion over ten years to stem-cell research. This dwarfs the UK Government's commitment, made two years ago, of £40 million to fund a three-year research programme in the area.

Professor Dynes hopes that this financial backing will put California at the forefront of stem-cell research globally. But he stressed that research cash and impressive facilities would not be the only benefits for researchers who chose to relocate. "What I will do is tell young researchers that California is the most innovative, diverse and risk-taking society in the world," he said.

Melinda Lako, a lecturer in Newcastle University's Centre for Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics, said: "We have free collaboration and the UK stem cell bank. Californians may have trouble collaborating with scientists elsewhere in the US."

Robert Key, the shadow Minister for Science, said: "I have every confidence that young scientists will want to stay in this country in what is a rapidly expanding field."

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