Thursday, January 27, 2011

Details Finally Emerge on $200,000 Stem Cell Convention Subsidy Plan

The California stem cell agency last night belatedly gave the public its first glimpse at a $200,000 plan to subsidize attendance at an international stem cell conference in Toronto in June.

A one-sentence version of the proposal has been on the agenda of the directors of the California stem cell agenda for 10 days. However, the cost, number of persons involved and other details were not disclosed until only hours before the directors are scheduled to take it up this morning.

In a memo on the CIRM web site, Chairman Robert Klein estimated the cost at $2,000 per person for travel, hotel and registration expenses at the meeting of the International Society of Stem Cell Research, the world's largest such organization. He proposed sending "80 young California researchers who are actively involved in a CIRM-fund grant (including Bridges to Stem Cell Research, research training grants and other research award programs) and up to 40 California representatives of patient advocacy organizations."

The $24 million Bridges program covers training largely at California state and community colleges.

The memo did not present a justification for the convention travel subsidy. Instead, it said that CIRM paid for the attendance of 98 persons in a similar program for the ISSCR convention last year in San Francisco. It said the program was a "success" but provided no basis for that assertion.

CIRM, through Klein's office, has been trying to improve relations with patient advocate organizations, which will be a key to winning support of a proposed, new $3 billion to $5 billion ballot measure for the stem cell agency.

The program would use part of the $3.5 million that has been donated to CIRM by private individuals and be operated under the auspices of the ISSCR. The organization would be given the $200,000 to set up a "scholarship" program. Klein would run the program through his office, he said, to avoid placing any additional burden on CIRM's scientific staff. It was not clear whether the ISSCR would require reimbursement for its administrative costs in connection with the program.

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