Tuesday, April 15, 2008

CIRM Exaggerates Role in San Diego Clinical Trials Research, Scientist Says

The headline last week from the California stem cell agency read: "First Clinical Trial Begins for a Therapy Enabled By CIRM Funding."

The news was big enough that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement on April 7, hailing the research as a world-leading effort. The governor said,
"Stem cell research, funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), led to the discovery of this new treatment."
CIRM Chairman Robert Klein touted "the CIRM model designed to accelerate the quest for cures." The news also received attention in some newspapers, including the San Diego Union-Tribune.

But at least one well-regarded, California stem cell researcher thinks the agency engaged in exaggeration – perhaps even "fraud" – in making the claims about the role of its funding.

The researcher, who asked not to be identified, told the California Stem Cell Report:
"It appears as though the CIRM has wrongly taken credit for supporting work published by one of its funded grantees and/or the funded grantee has wrongly given credit to CIRM for supporting their research. In either case, the CIRM’s press release on the subject is self-serving and misleading, at best. The press and hESC stem cell research supporters have already latched on to this false claim by CIRM and, as a result, are mistakenly touting CIRM’s effectiveness in the field."
CIRM has defended its statement, which said,
"Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, used a (CIRM) SEED grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to conduct stem-cell research that verified a suspect gene mutation was by itself necessary and sufficient to cause a class of severe blood diseases called myeloproliferative disorders."
The CIRM statement, which is carried under the press release section of its web site, was modified following queries by the California Stem Cell Report. The release now says that a CIRM training grant was also involved. The current version of the news release, however, does not mention that it was altered from the original.

The initial version of the CIRM statement reportedly triggered concerns among some stem cell scientists and led to one contacting the California Stem Cell Report.

The researcher said in an email:
"The press release 'First Clinical Trial Begins for a Therapy Enabled By CIRM Funding' states that 'Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, used a SEED grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to conduct stem-cell research …'. The quoted UCSD press release describes the work as involving 'human cord blood stem cells … to find whether over-expression of a single gene could drive, or initiate, the disease … that looked like PV' and says that the '…work [was] supported in part by grants from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine…'. Both items in the UCSD press release are corroborated by inspection of the Cancer Stem article cited.

"However, the SEED grant mentioned - RS1-00228-1: Derivation and Characterization of Cancer Stem Cells from Human ES Cells – has nothing to do with cord blood stem cells or PV. The SEED grant involves hESCs and another disease altogether, CML: 'To provide a robust model system for screening novel anti-CSC therapies, we propose to generate and characterize CSC from hESC (10-18). We will investigate the role of genes that are essential for initiation of CML such as BCR-ABL and additional mutations such as b-catenin implicated in CSC propagation (19-30).'

"Thus, any claim that the SEED grant monies were used to support the published research is either in error, an over-exaggeration, or, worse, fraud.

"CIRM needs to investigate which of these possibilities is the correct one, issue a retraction of its claim, and ensure that erroneous claims are no longer proffered by CIRM or its grantees."
The research in question was conducted at the University of California, San Diego, by a team led by Catriona Jamieson. Her article in Cancer Cell said in the acknowledgments section that:
"This work was supported in part by grants from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Mizrahi Family Foundation to E.K., C.B., and C.H.M.J., the National Institutes of Health (K23HL04409) to J.G., and an unrestricted gift from Targe-Gen Inc."
When queried, Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for CIRM, said,
"Jamieson has had a post doc funded by a CIRM training grant since July 2006, so our funds helped every stage of this work through his salary. The SEED grant to Jamieson was approved in February (2007) and the Notice of Grant Award went to the institution in July. It is typical for institutions to forward fund after an NGA pending arrival of the first check, which happened in September. The journal asked for additional experiments after the initial submission of the paper, and the Seed grant helped complete those added experiments that resulted in final publication.

"The SEED grant does require that Jamieson use embryonic stem cells at some point during the two year grant cycle, but it also funds many other aspects of the science. Our scientific strategic plan does not call for just funding stem cell work directly; it calls for accelerating the field as a whole."
Gibbons later said that UCSD provided no advance funding for the CIRM grant, which was not signed off by UCSD until Aug. 31, 2007, according to another source. Jamieson's article was first submitted for publication Sept. 19, 2007, according to the source.

We asked Jamieson if she had any comment on the CIRM news release issue. She simply referred us to the statement contained in the acknowledgment section of her Cancer Cell article.

The stem cell researcher who is critical of CIRM said that "...because (the agency) perceives a need to produce results rapidly (it) has, perhaps inadvertently and perhaps not, latched on without checking the facts (although in my mind the facts are quite obvious and need little checking)." Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

  1. I am unsure which is more inappropriate: CIRM exaggerating its role in the first place, or trying to cover its tracks by altering the online version of a press release.