Monday, April 17, 2006

Release of Stem Cell Cash Generates Generally Positive Coverage

An "exhilirating" flow of dollars has started to fill the coffers of universities and research institutions around California that are the first recipients of CIRM's stem cell research grants.

The cash is aimed at creating a cadre of stem cell scholars, who are generally believed to be in short supply because of President Bush's action restricting federal funding of stem cell research.

The opening of the money spigot triggered a piece in the New York Times, which has visited the agency only infrequently. Its coverage is significant because of the newspaper's stature among decision makers nationally. The brief article by Carolyn Marshall bore the headline: "In End Run Around Legal Challenge, California Gives Out Stem Cell Research Grants." Stem cell Chairman Robert Klein was quoted as saying the funding was "exhilirating," but the article also quoted Jesse Reynolds of the Center for Genetics and Society as saying the funding mechanism raises a "real prospect" that private entities could unduly influence the agency.

Most of the news stories generally had a positive note (giving away money always connotes well-being). Reporter Steve Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News, however, also included information about a swank fundraiser planned to provide $1 million for CIRM at up to $10,000 per plate. That prompted John M. Simpson of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights to worry that the purchase of tickets by stem cell companies could create a potential conflict of interest. Johnson's mention of the fundraiser, which we did not see in other newspaper reports April 11 on the grant funding, certainly seemed appropriate given the agency's fiscal woes.

The CIRM press release on the grants had this to say, among other things:
"'Stem cell researchers around the globe are keeping a close eye on California. I am very pleased for these research institutions,'" said Stuart Orkin, M.D., Chair of the CIRM Research Funding Working Group and the David G. Nathan Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “Even more gratifying is to see the undaunted commitment of Californians who understand the urgency of funding this research.
Reporter Erin Allday of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote:
"Dr. Arnold Kriegstein, who heads the stem cell research program being developed at UCSF, said he's already heard from at least 200 prospective students interested in the 16 training spots that will be made available by the $1.15 million grant the campus is receiving.

"Kriegstein said the UCSF stem cell program has four faculty members, with another two or three expected to join the staff by the end of the year. He hopes classes will start for the grant students early this summer."
The Contra Costa Times editorialized happily about the opening of the money gates, airily dimissing concerns about the built-in conflicts of interest on the CIRM Oversight Committee.

The occasion triggered a spate of press releases from the institutions receiving the cash, which in turn triggered some additional local stories. The press releases, however, mainly speak to the various constituencies of the institutions, who will presumably be favorably impressed that CIRM is giving money to their institutions.

Here are links to other stories on the funding: The Associated Press , The Sacramento Bee, the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune. Sphere: Related Content

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