Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Aussie Stem Cell Probe Highlights Need for Maximum Openness at CIRM

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights of Santa Monica, Ca., is one of the more diligent watchdogs of the California stem cell agency, which is funded by taxpayers to the tune of roughly $6 billion (including interest).

Simpson (see photo) and his organization support human embryonic stem cell research, but they also have concerns about CIRM, an organization unlike any other in California history. It is virtually untouchable by the governor or the legislature, a distinction enjoyed by no other state agency.

CIRM is also an organization with built-in conflicts of interest, all legal because they were approved by California voters in Prop. 71, which created the stem cell agency.

We believe that means that CIRM should operate with more disclosure and openness than any other state agency. Such openness is in CIRM's own best interest, given the impact that even a minor scandal might have.

All that is a preface to Simpson's comments below, carried verbatim, on the Australian-Trounson stem cell research inquiry(see the several items below). Here is what Simpson sent exclusively to the California Stem Cell Report.
"As word makes its way from Australia to the United States about an investigation of a researcher in Alan Trounson's Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories, one point is already clear.

"There must be complete transparency and accountability in publicly funded research.

"Trounson, who is to assume the presidency of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is by all accounts not under investigation. A report from a panel of academics who examined the evidence of wrongdoing is 'imminent.'

"Everyone interested in California's stem cell program is waiting for that report to see what degree of culpability -- if any -- Trounson had for things apparently done by others in his laboratory.

"Even before the report's release, the situation once again demonstrates the need for oversight, transparency and accountability in scientific research. Time and time again around the world, too many scientists have bent the rules for their own personal gain. Research simply must not be funded without the highest degree of public scrutiny.

"CIRM staff demonstrated the necessary high standards when after its vetting process, two ICOC-approved research awards were not granted.

"I suspect Trounson will emerge from the Monash probe unscathed, and I hope it will be with an even stronger commitment to the standards of accountability and transparency required by CIRM.

"Nonetheless, the ICOC should review closely the Monash University report when it is available and not allow itself to be blinded by the glitter of a world-class researcher. Even before the report's details emerge, however, the need for transparency and openness in all aspects of publicly funded research is demonstrated yet again."
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