Thursday, December 13, 2007

'Great to be in California' Says Recipient of $2.2 Million Stem Cell Grant

News coverage of Wednesday's California stem cell agency meeting – with its $54 million in research grant awards and conflict-of-interest flap – was light today.

Only one newspaper reporter attended the meeting along with one TV and one radio reporter. However, other newspapers picked up the story remotely, including Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

She focused on the grants going to San Diego area area researchers, along with quotes from recipients. She wrote:
"Lei Wang(see photo), 35, an assistant professor in Salk's Chemical Biology and Proteomics Laboratory, will receive $2.6 million for his proposal to develop new technologies for the precise investigation of molecular events in stem cells.

"Although his proposal was scored the highest of all 49 considered, Wang said it would not have been granted funding by the NIH. What the regenerative medicine institute's scientific reviewers found to be 'bold and exceptionally innovative' would be considered too risky by the NIH, he said.

"David Traver(see photo), 38, an assistant professor of biological sciences at UCSD, will receive about $2.2 million for research into how stem cells of the blood-forming system are generated.

"'It's great to be in California,' Traver said. "My colleagues in the field are envious of this amazing thing the taxpayers of California have done.'"
Wang's comment will resonate at CIRM, which wants to encourage research that will break out of the mainstream.

The only newspaper reporter at the meeting was Bradley Fikes of the North County Times of San Diego County. He wrote:
"Leaders of California's $3 billion stem cell program struggled with a rash of alleged conflict of interest problems Wednesday, even as they awarded $54.4 million in grants to 22 young scientists."
Meanwhile, in a column in The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday, longtime political columnist Dan Walters mentioned the California stem cell agency in a discussion of "unseemly activities" at some of "semi-public, semi-private fiefdoms" that exist in state government.

He touched on the problems with the state's First 5 California Children and Families Commission and Rob Reiner and wrote:.
"A more current example is another agency also created by ballot measure and headed by the man who sponsored the campaign, the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which has $3 billion in state bond funds to finance stem cell research.

"From its onset three years ago, the agency has been managed by businessman Robert Klein as a secretive, quasi-private pot of money that would be disbursed by mysterious procedures. It's especially troublesome that many of those serving on the agency's board are heads of universities and other institutions seeking research grants. It's another scandal waiting to happen."
Walters's perspective is one that would be more common among reporters who might write about CIRM should the agency surface with a higher level controversy.

In addition to Los Angeles TV station KTLA, John Brooks of KFWB radio covered the CIRM meeting on Wednesday. Here are links to the stories by Jim Downing of The Sacramento Bee and Steve Johnson of the San Jose Mercury News.

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