Friday, September 02, 2005

Identifying (sort of) Winners and Losers in the First Stem Cell Grants

The California stem cell agency is slowly, slowly opening the envelope that will reveal the winners of the first grants to be given by the agency.

Twenty-six applicants are discussed as part of an online background document for the Sept. 9 Oversight Committee meeting. But their names are blacked out. We suspect, however, that persons involved in stem cell research could identify the institutions based on the descriptions in the documents.

The information gives a summary of the proposed program, a scientific score and something of a critique of the program and suggestions for improvements, at least in some cases. Also included are recommendations on whether to fund the application. The amount requested is reported along with the recommendations for grant amounts, which are in some cases less than requested.

Here is an example of the summary assessment of strengths and weaknesses of one proposed program, which was not recommended for funding.

“This application presents strengths in its proposal to develop a textbook in stem cell biology, to serve disadvantaged and minority students, and fill a needed gap in the mathematical approaches to stem cell biology. As a focus for the new institution, it will have considerable institutional commitment and attention. However, the limited number of faculty available and the lack of depth and accomplishment in stem cell biology weigh against these positive attributes.”

One quick guess is that application came from the University of California, Merced, based on the references to its newness and limited faculty, but we could be wrong. We do know that all the UC campuses reportedly made applications.

Given the likelihood that stem cell insiders will be able to identify the grant applicants, the only folks who won't know are members of the public, the shareholders who are paying for this stuff.

Unexplained by CIRM is what is exactly to be done with these applications. Based on its budget, the agency does not have money to fund the proposed programs. What may occur is a vote on the applications with funding deferred until money becomes available. Sphere: Related Content

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