Election 2020: Prop. 14 and stem cell research funding

Sep 21, 2020

In November, California voters will be deciding on a dozen statewide ballot measures. One is about funding stem cell research through bonds, Proposition 14.  

Just one day before his high school graduation, Cal Poly football recruit Jake Javier dove into a friend’s swimming pool and hit his head on the bottom, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

“The next thing I knew I was being told I’m a quadriplegic," Javier said. "I broke my neck at the C6 level.”

Javiers’ plans to play football in college—now gone. He was told he was never going to walk again. 

“I really didn’t have time to panic, or feel sorry for myself," Javier said. "Immediately it was survival mode for the next couple weeks, I was on a ventilator [and] couldn’t breathe, and then from there it was starting my rehab.”

Less than a week post-injury, he got a call from a Stanford doctor who said the teen would make a great candidate for a stem cell trial they were conducting. 

“They were very clear about the possible outcomes of it," Javier said. "They were like ‘yeah it could potentially help you we don’t know how much, it could potentially negatively affect you and hurt your function.'"

Javier decided even if it wouldn’t help him, the research could help others, so he became a part of the trial. Doctors injected stem cells in him in a one-time surgery, then monitored and tested Javier's progress for months. He says he had a positive outcome. 

“I regained more strength in my arms than what was expected, I have a little bit of finger movement that isn’t a whole lot, but it's functional," Javier said. "Honestly I’m really glad I went through with it because I have no idea where I’d be without it.”

This election, California voters will decide whether to pay for more stem cell research like this via Proposition 14. It continues programs approved by voters in 2004

A UC San Diego professor of cellular and molecular medicine, Lawrence Goldstein, says it will fund research and therapy for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, and other brain and central nervous system diseases and conditions. 

“It would authorize five and a half billion dollars," Goldstein said. "In what are called general obligation funds that would then be used to fund stem cell research in medicine.”

Opponents argue with California facing a huge budget deficit due to the pandemic, Prop. 14 would take billions away from more pressing needs like housing and education. And that back in 2004, state voters approved funding because the federal government wasn’t supporting stem cell research, but that’s no longer the case.