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California stem cell agency proposes change after critical report

January 25, 2013|By Eryn Brown
  • Researcher Terry Storm in a stem cell lab at Stanford University. California's stem cell agency, CIRM, has funded research at dozens of institutions, but has come under fire for governance issues.
Researcher Terry Storm in a stem cell lab at Stanford University. California's… (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

Changes may be on the way at California’s stem cell funding agency. 

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM, came under fire in December when an Institute of Medicine report concluded that the agency was plagued by conflicts of interest. (See story in related items at left.)  

In response, CIRM’s governing board on Wednesday endorsed a “framework” designed to address some of those concerns. Chief among the changes: Board members from universities and other research institutions who compete for CIRM funding would no longer vote on grants. But CIRM also proposed clarifying the roles of the board chair and agency staff, adopted the IOM recommendation to create a scientific advisory board for strategic guidance, and more.

“These are big potential changes, and important ones,” board Chairman Jonathan Thomas said in a statement.

Created with the passage of Proposition 71 in 2004, CIRM was established to provide funding for embryonic stem cell research, which at the time was ineligible for federal money.  As of early December, the agency had allocated nearly $1.7 billion to dozens of institutions that conduct stem cell research.

But since CIRM’s inception, some watchdogs have been concerned about the way the agency was run, focusing particularly on the role of agency founder Robert Klein.

“We must get past long-standing criticism on structure and protocol that has far too long stolen focus in the media, and with other outside observers, from the incredible scientific work that we have enabled,” Thomas said.

A final vote on the plan is scheduled for March.

For comprehensive coverage of all things CIRM-related , check out David Jensen’s California Stem Cell Report.  More on stem cells from the Los Angeles Times is available here, including a 2010 piece by Times reporter Karen Kaplan, who wrote about CIRM’s shift away from finding “basic groundwork”  toward paying for science that will result in more immediate cures

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