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Billions of Dollars for Stem Cell Research Institute On California’s November Ballot

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—In an election year dominated by a chaotic presidential race and splashy statewide ballot initiative campaigns, Californians are being asked to weigh in on the value of stem cell research—again.

Proposition 14 would authorize the state to borrow $5.5 billion to keep financing the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), currently the second-largest funder of stem cell research in the world. Factoring in interest payments, the measure could cost the state roughly $7.8 billion over about 30 years, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office.

In 2004, voters approved Proposition 71, a $3 billion bond, to be repaid with interest over 30 years. The measure got the state agency up and running and was designed to seed research.

During that first campaign, voters were told research funded by the measure could lead to cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s and other devastating diseases, and that the state could reap millions in royalties from new treatments.

Yet most of those ambitions remain unfulfilled.

“I think the initial promises were a little optimistic,” said Kevin McCormack, CIRM’s senior director of public communications, about how quickly research would yield cures. “You can’t rush this kind of work.”

So advocates are back after 16 years for more research money, and to increase the size of the state agency.

Stem cells hold great potential for medicine because of their ability to develop into different types of cells in the body, and to repair and renew tissue.

When the first bond measure was adopted in 2004, the George W. Bush administration refused to fund stem cell research at the national level because of opposition to the use of one kind of stem cell: human embryonic stem cells. They derive from fertilized eggs, which has made them controversial among politicians who oppose abortion.

Federal funding resumed in 2009, and thus far this year the National Institutes of Health has spent about $321 million on human embryonic stem cell research.

But advocates for Proposition 14 say the ability to do that research is still tenuous. In September, Republican lawmakers sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to cut off those funds once again.

The funding from California’s original bond measure was used to create the new state institute and fund grants to conduct research at California hospitals and universities for diseases such as blood cancer and kidney failure. The money has paid for 90 clinical trials.

A 2019 report from the University of Southern California concluded the center has contributed about $10.7 billion to the California economy, which includes hiring, construction and attracting more research dollars to the state. CIRM funds more than 56,500 jobs, more than half of which are considered high-paying.

Despite the campaign promises, just two treatments developed with some help from CIRM have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the past 13 years, one for leukemia and one for scarring of the bone marrow.

But it’s a bit of a stretch for the institute to take

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health

A nurse saw a Chesapeake doctor do questionable things for years. She also got gifts totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Margo Stone did a little bit of everything over the nearly three decades that she worked for Dr. Javaid Perwaiz.

Her job titles included nurse, office administrator, and bookkeeper. She assisted Perwaiz in the examining rooms, checked patient’s blood pressure and weight, ordered supplies, paid bills, recorded deposits, and handled the payroll and payroll taxes.

She also had a romantic relationship with the longtime obstetrician-gynecologist now on trial for more than 60 criminal charges in U.S. District Court in Norfolk.

Prosecutors allege that Perwaiz, 70, performed unneeded work on patients for years in order to fund a lavish lifestyle. He’s charged with multiple counts of health care fraud, making false statements related to health care matters and identity theft. His jury trial began Wednesday and could last more than a month.

Stone told jurors she first started working part-time as a nurse for Perwaiz in the early 1990s and later became a full-time employee. Over the years, her responsibilities grew. So, too, did her relationship with the doctor.

He spent lots of time with Stone, her husband and two sons, Stone testified. He became a kind of grandfather figure for the boys, now in their 20s. He paid for the boys’ high school and college tuitions and bought the oldest son a car. The boys eventually started calling him Papa.

Perwaiz hung the boys’ framed portraits on the walls of his office and put their initials on the license plate of one of his cars.

Stone also got lots of gifts from the doctor. She estimated that he gave her about 10 watches, each valued at $2,000. She also got purses, sunglasses, and jewelry. She even shared an American Express card with him that she used to buy things for herself and her sons.

When asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Butler to estimate the total value of the gifts that Perwaiz gave her over the years, her response: “Several hundred thousand dollars.”

And while Stone testified that she would have stopped working for the doctor immediately if she ever thought he did anything that would put a patient’s safety in jeopardy, she said she saw him do some things that were questionable.

One day when she was filling in at the main office, she said she saw him examining a patient with an instrument that was broken. She immediately ordered a new part for it.

When staff complained that he wasn’t sterilizing a piece of equipment for the recommended amount of time, she said she confronted him and he agreed to wait in the future. And when she heard patients complain about having to undergo too many surgeries, she confronted him about that, too.

“Sometimes he seemed to listen, sometimes he did not,” she said.

Stone also said she knew that he wasn’t using some instruments properly and occasionally saw him alter information on patients records.

In other testimony Friday, two of Perwaiz’s former patients told jurors how the doctor recommended they get a hysterectomy after they

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