Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

December 7, 2012

Report: Calif. stem cell agency needs overhaul

LOS ANGELES — California has transformed into a major player in stem cell research, but the taxpayer-funded institute responsible has “significant deficiencies” in how research dollars are distributed, experts said Thursday.

A report by the Institute of Medicine found too many members on the board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine represented schools that won funding and recommended a restructuring to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest.  

California voters in 2004 approved Proposition 71, a state ballot initiative that created CIRM, at a time when there were federal restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research and such work was opposed by some on religious and moral grounds because embryos have to be destroyed to harvest the cells.

The agency was given broad power to distribute $3 billion in bond proceeds to promising research. So far, it has distributed more than $1 billion to some five dozen universities that went mostly toward investments in new buildings and basic research.

The team of 13 experts that reviewed the stem-cell agency’s operations did not judge the merits of individual studies because that was outside the scope of the report and it would have been too time-consuming and costly. But they raised serious questions about how grants were allotted.

The approval process “has some significant deficiencies which need to be improved upon in order to improve CIRM’s credibility and transparency,” said Harold Shapiro, an emeritus professor at Princeton University who chaired the report.

In a few short years, CIRM got off the ground and funneled research money with an eye toward stem cell therapies, turning the state into “an international hub of research and development in stem cell biology,” the report said.

While the panel did not find any specific cases of conflict, it noted that the potential exists because of how the board is made up.

CIRM is composed of 29 members, mostly from academia. They have the dual role of providing oversight and day-to-day management. While the structure may have worked when CIRM was first launched and shielded it from political meddling, change is needed going forward, experts said.

“They’re not broken but they’re bent,” said Sharon Terry, president of the nonprofit Genetic Alliance who was part of the panel. “They need some correction.”

Among the recommendations: The board should remain at arm’s length from the management team, focus on providing better oversight and should not decide what projects to fund. It also needs to be more diverse and include more representatives from industry and members with no stake in the grant-awarding process. Experts also favored the creation of an outside scientific group to give advice and expertise.  

Some of the suggested changes would require legislative approval, but the panel felt they were needed to erase concerns about possible conflicts of interest.

In a statement, CIRM board chairman Jonathan Thomas said the agency has not had a chance to digest the report. Once board members talk it over with the panel next week, they will decide “on how best to proceed so that we can respond in as thoughtful a manner to the recommendations” as the panel did, Thomas said.

The latest report echoed several others in the past by other groups, which also called for a new governance structure.

“CIRM has not responded in a meaningful way to many previous public interest suggestions or to independent reviews,” Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society said in a statement. “We hope the agency will not continue that pattern.”  

Since cutting the first check in 2006, CIRM now finds itself at a crossroads. The federal research limits that existed when it was created have been relaxed and it recently shifted focus from basic research to funding projects that can swiftly begin human trials. Experts felt this goal was unrealistic and urged the agency to have a more balanced approach.

At its current funding pace, CIRM is expected to earmark the last grants around 2017, but since most are multi-year awards, it will stay in business until around 2021. It’s currently deciding its future for when the money runs out.

The $700,000 report was sponsored by CIRM — a customary practice for organizations seeking a review. The Institute of Medicine said sponsors have no influence on the fact-gathering process and are barred from reviewing drafts or weighing in on the report before publication.

1
Text Only
Top News
  • Man said to be homesick for prison gets 3 1/2 years

    An ex-con who spent most of his adult life behind bars on Thursday got what he said he wanted for robbing a suburban Chicago bank. The 74-year-old gets to go back to the place he called home — prison.

    April 18, 2014

  • Greenleaf embarks on ‘a new beginning’

    Greenleaf Center invites health-care professionals and business leaders to a ribbon cutting at its 2209 Pineview Drive location to recognize the newly renovated hospital.

    April 18, 2014

  • Today in History for Friday, April 18, 2014

    Today is Good Friday, April 18, the 108th day of 2014. There are 257 days left in the year.

    April 18, 2014

  • VSU, LHS bands partner for concert

    Valdosta State University Music Department’s Wind Ensemble and Lowndes High School’s Wind Symphony present a joint concert, 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 21, Whitehead Auditorium, VSU Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood.

    April 18, 2014

  • Southeastern Federal, VSU host baseball, movie in the park

    Almost everyone enjoys movies and almost everyone enjoys baseball, so what happens when you combine the two? That is exactly what Southeastern Federal Credit Union will be doing tonight with its Movies in the Park event.

    April 18, 2014

  • Valdosta playwright becomes author

    A Valdosta playwright has turned her play into a new book.

    April 18, 2014

  • Wild Adventures hosts Ostrich Easter Egg Hunt

    Tie on your Easter bonnet and hop over to Wild Adventures Saturday, April 19, for an Easter egg hunt with a distinctly Wild Adventures twist.

    April 18, 2014

  • GMC Valdosta holding Admissions Day

    Georgia Military College Valdosta will be hosting Admissions Day on Tuesday from 8-6 p.m.

    April 18, 2014

  • Color Me Free fun run planned

    South Georgia House of Hope is having a Color Me Free 5k Fun Run/Walk April 26 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., to emphasize Alcohol Awareness Month. All funds raised will benefit South Georgia House of Hope, which is a long-term residential home for women recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and abuse.

    April 18, 2014

  • Another arrest made in kidnapping

    Another arrest was made in the kidnapping of a North Carolina prosecutor’s father, federal investigators said Thursday.
    Quantavious Thompson was taken into custody late Wednesday afternoon, FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said in a statement. Details on his arrest weren’t immediately available.

    April 18, 2014

Top News
Poll

What you think about school and workplace rules about Facebook friends?

There have to be rules.
No need for rules, just use common sense.
If people want to be friends, what is the big deal?
Nobody uses Facebook anymore.
     View Results