Above the wails of disbelief and the cheers of victory that surrounded last year's election results, an acute observer might have heard the faint sound of champagne corks popping high in the hills of La Jolla.
For a select group of scientists, academics and business leaders, the election was remarkable for a little-read but widely debated proposition that essentially made their pockets a lot deeper and their futures a lot brighter. Proposition 71, which passed by 59 percent, cleared the way for $3 billion to be made available by the state government with the specific aim of funding research into one of the most promising - and controversial - fields of scientific research of the 21st century.
Stem cell research, which in its many manifestations has long been a key component of the work of several of La Jolla's premier institutions, got the green light from California's voters.
In simple terms, stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the unique ability to transform into any kind of cell in the body. Scientists hope that the study of stem cells will eventually lead to new methods of combating disease, but there has been much debate overthe ethics of studying, manipulating and even cloning cells. Federal funding has been limited for stem cell research and scientists have faced a political climate that has been less than favorable towards their work.
The passing of Proposition 71 therefore gives the community lots of reasons to celebrate.
Asked if he stayed up late watching the fate of Proposition 71 unfold, Mark Mercola, a specialist on cardiomyocytes at the Burnham Institute, smiled.
"I think that's fair to say," he said. "We were all looking forward to it with a great spirit of anticipation."
While La Jolla's most influential research institutions have been holding their own with world leaders in stem cell research for a long time, the passing of Proposition 71 arguably offers establishments like the Burnham Institute, the Salk Institute and UCSD the opportunity to cement themselves as the preeminent institutions for stem cell research in the United States. With the vast increase in available funding for researchers and the shift towards a political climate that liberalizes federal rules on stem cell research that many scientists claim stifled their ingenuity, scientists say California is now a more attractive place than ever for the best and the brightest stem cell experts to congregate.
La Jolla's biotech companies, politicians and business groups are also striving to lock down La Jolla's reputation as a center for excellence in stem cells. They seek the money and prestige that comes with being one of the major players in a school of scientific thought that many biologists say is potentially the most significant new frontier in the fight against disease.
Local researchers currently working on stem cells are likely to benefit enormously from the passing of Proposition 71. For some scientists, such as Yang Xu, a specialist in stem cell research at UCSD, the legislation means the research he has been doing into mouse stem cells can now likely be translated into human stem cells. For all of La Jolla's stem cell researchers, the sheer amount of money that will be made available will be a great boon to their work, making available the funds that are the life-blood of their profession.