Thursday, July 19, 2012

California's $12.4 Million Stem Cell Recruitment Lure

Directors of the California stem cell agency next Thursday are likely to approve spending $12.4 million to lure a couple of stem cell stars to the Golden State.

It is part of a $44 million recruitment program that has brought three highly regarded scientists to three California research institutions, all of which have representatives on the CIRM board. (See here, here and here.)

As usual, the $3 billion stem cell agency does not identify the potential recipients in advance of the meeting or the institutions that are recruiting them. However, if you have a modicum of knowledge about the specific fields involved, it is likely that you can identify them based on the information in CIRM's review summaries and some Internet searching.

One of the proposed research grants–a $5.7 million award--would go a scientist who won raves from CIRM's reviewers. The researcher was described as an “exceptional scientist and one of the leading young developmental biologists.” Reviewers gave his proposal a score of 90 and, in summary, said,
“Major strengths include the candidate's exceptional productivity and contributions to the fields of mammalian embryology and kidney development, the significance and potential of the research program, the PI's proven leadership capabilities, and the outstanding institutional commitment.”
 The other grant was larger–$6.7 million–but reviewers raised a number of questions about the candidate although they recommended it for funding. The review summary ranked the application at 57 and said,
“In summary, this is an application from an established leader in NSC biology to pursue research focused on disease mechanisms in PD. Strengths of the proposal include the quality of the PI, the focus of the project on an interesting hypothesis, and the leadership in basic science that the candidate would bring to the applicant institution. Weaknesses included deficiencies in the research plan, the limited track-record of the PI in PD research and an institutional environment lacking adequate support for basic science investigations.“
Last January, in a rare move, CIRM directors rejected a $6.3 million recruitment grant with a score of 76 sought by the Buck Institute, which is not represented on the board.

The proposals are scheduled to be acted on at a public CIRM board meeting in Burlingame, Ca.

(Editor's note: an earlier version of this item incorrectly said the total of both grants was $13.4 million.)

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