In 2004, California voters approved Proposition 71 to fund stem cell research. Significant progress has been made, with over 90 clinical trials and 2,900 published medical discoveries to date. Here are some of the Californians whose lives have improved thanks to stem cell research.

Sandra Dillon

Sandra was diagnosed with an incurable form of blood cancer.

At age 28, San Diego resident Sandra Dillon was living an active, healthy lifestyle. She ran every day, ate a balanced diet, and didn’t smoke. But one day, she discovered an odd bump under her rib cage.

After numerous tests, Sandra received a devastating diagnosis. Doctors told her she had an incurable form of blood cancer, and they gave her only five to seven years to live.

Although losing hope, Sandra enrolled in a clinical trial at UC San Diego under Dr. Catriona Jamieson, M.D., Ph.D. Sandra received a cutting-edge treatment that was developed with critical early support from California’s stem cell research institute. It saved her life.

Today, Sandra’s cancer is still in remission. The treatment received final approval from the FDA in 2019.

Kris Boesen

Kris was left paralyzed from the neck down after a car accident.

“I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t feed myself, I couldn’t text or pretty much do anything. I wasn’t really living my life, I was existing,” said Kris.

In April 2016, Kris participated in a clinical trial at USC funded by California’s stem cell institute. He received a single injection of 10 million oligodendrocyte progenitor stem cells (cells that insulate nerve cells).

Since the stem cell transplantation, Kris has regained significant use of his upper body. He can text, play with his dog, and lift weights over his head.

“After the stem cell surgery, I’m able to live my life again,” said Kris.

The stem cell treatment Kris received advanced to Phase 2 clinical trials, with results showing improved motor function in over 95% of patients.

Rosie Barrero

Rosie thought she may never be able to see her children.

Rosie had slowly been losing her eyesight since childhood, but doctors couldn’t figure out why. While in her late 20s and pregnant with twins, she was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic eye disorder that can lead to complete blindness.

“It was absolutely devastating to know that I would be a mom and that I would eventually go blind,” said Rosie. Eventually, she did.

In 2015, Rosie participated in a clinical trial funded by California’s stem cell institute. She received an injection of retinal progenitor stem cells (the cells that give rise to the nerve cells in the eye). Seventeen months after the treatment, Rosie was able to see her children, make out her own handwriting, and look into her own mother’s eyes.

“People say hindsight is 20/20. But now when I think about it, I think, oh no, my future is 20/20,” said Rosie.

Every participant in this Phase 1/2 study experienced improved eyesight as a result of this treatment. The trial has advanced to Phase 2.

Evangelina Padilla-Vaccaro

Evangelina was cured of Bubble Baby disease

Evangelina was born with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), also known as “Bubble Baby disease,” a deadly genetic disease that causes babies to be born without functioning immune systems.

Her parents, Alysia and Christian, were among the first to put their faith in a groundbreaking clinical trial conducted at UCLA. Evie’s own blood stem cells were isolated, the missing gene was added, and the “corrected” cells were returned to Evie.

Evie is now cured of the disease. Alysia describes her daughter as “a healthy 8-year-old, vibrant, nonstop little girl with a functioning immune system."

Her father, Christian, was also astounded by the positive outcome: “It’s hard to believe until you actually see the results.”

Over 50 children have now been cured of Bubble Baby disease using this approach. The treatment has been fast-tracked to receive FDA approval.

Anna Kuehl

Anna could finally see people's faces again.

In her mid-30s, Anna was diagnosed with dry macular degeneration, an age-related condition that results in the loss of central vision over time. The condition is characterized by the loss of a single-cell layer in the back of the eye called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE).

While her peripheral vision remained intact, she realized she was losing the central vision in her left eye. She could no longer see people’s faces clearly, drive a car, or read the time on her watch. Even her beloved hiking excursions became cumbersome.

Anna was selected for a Phase I/IIA clinical trial funded in part by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. In October 2017, she underwent surgery at USC. Doctors implanted an ultra-thin “scaffold” layered with stem cell-derived RPE cells into Kuehl's eye.

Since the surgery, Kuehl can make out the time on her watch again, and reading has become much easier. Remarkably, she can even see the whole faces of people again, whether in person or on television.