The scientist is Kwang-Yul Cha, who also "came under criticism a few years ago for his involvement in a study suggesting that anonymous prayers from strangers might double a woman's chances of fertility," according to the Los Angeles Times.
His firm, CHA Health Systems, is the parent company of CHA Regenerative Medicine Institute (CHA RMI) of Los Angeles, a non-profit organization that last week was awarded the research grant by the Oversight Committee of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The funds were approved by the 29-member committee with no specific discussion of the CHA grant. The names of the organizations were not disclosed until hours after the vote.
The information about Cha's background was first published in the Los Angeles Times Feb. 18, nearly a month before the grant was approved. The story by Charles Ornstein said Cha, whose firm also owns Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center,
"...is listed as the primary author on a medical paper that appeared in December 2005 in the U.S. medical journal Fertility and Sterility.Ornstein continued:
"But that paper appears to be nearly a paragraph-for-paragraph, chart-for-chart copy of a junior researcher's doctoral thesis, which appeared in a Korean medical journal nearly two years earlier, according to a Times review of both papers and the findings of a Korean medical society.
"Cha has denied any wrongdoing."
"Cha also appears to be violating state law by using MD after his name on websites and in news releases in California. He is not licensed to practice in the state, records show. His resume says he received his medical training in South Korea.On Feb. 28, Ornstein also reported that Thomas Kim, the medical director of another CHA organization, the CHA Fertility Center in Los Angeles, was under investigation by the state Medical Board "over a patient's allegations that the doctor seduced her into a lengthy sexual relationship and then lied to her about her treatment." Kim's lawyer has denied he did anything wrong and said that it was a consensual personal relationship involving Kim and the woman.
"'We don't believe it's lawful for him to hold himself out in this manner,' said Candis Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Medical Board of California."
We have queried both CIRM and CHA's organization in Korea for a comment and will carry them when we receive them.
Responding to a query from the California Stem Cell Report, John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights in Santa Monica, said:
"It strikes me that there are enough doubts about the credibility of the leadership of the CHA Medical Group so as to warrant a serious investigation before any money is transferred to its researchers.The grant to CHA RMI was part of a package that was voted on last Thursday night as a block. They had been recommended for approval by a group of out-of-state scientists and some members of the Oversight Committee, who together privately reviewed the grants some time ago. But the names of the applicants and their institutions were withheld from other members of the Oversight Committee and the public when they came up for the final vote. The Oversight Committee includes the deans of both the UCLA andUSC medical schools as well as a member of the board of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where the committee's meeting took place. Other prominent California medical school deans also sit on the Oversight Committee.
"First, CIRM ought to determine the relationship between the for-profit corporate parent and the non-profit CHA Regenerative Medicine Institute. It's not at all clear that CHA Regenerative Medicine is truly a non-profit organization.
"Second, the CHA Biotech website says that the institute has received approval from the Western Institutional Review Board for stem cell research involving frozen human eggs. Under CIRM rules there needs also to be approval by a SCRO committee -- Stem Cell Review Oversight committee. It's not clear that has happened. It's also important to know the source of the frozen eggs."
"Given the track record of CHA's leadership, I'd say CIRM needs to ask some tough questions and not release funds until there is a satisfactory public explanation of what's going on."
The Los Angeles Times carried a brief story on the grants, mentioning CHA by name but with no further background. Both Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez hailed the grants generally at a news conference, but did not mention CHA specifically.
The CIRM grants are subject to administrative review before the checks go out. That includes the legal standing of applicant institutions, the status of the principal research investigators, among other things.