“Repeated independent reviews of the agency, including one by the (IOM) released this month, have found that its board is rife with conflicts of interest. In fact, of the $1.7 billion that the agency has awarded so far, about 90 percent has gone to research institutions with ties to people sitting on the board, according to an analysis by David Jensen at the California Stem Cell Report, which closely follows the agency's operations.
“What's clear already is that the money has transformed stem cell research in California and poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the state's universities, including UC Irvine.”
“Before Proposition 71 (the measure that created the agency) passed, UC Irvine had less than ten stem cell scientists, who received about $1.5 million in funding each year. Now, after receiving $100 million in grants from the state agency, the university has sixty scientists working to advance stem cell research and teaching. It touts itself as one of the top stem cell research centers in the world. In 2010, it opened an $80 million four-story stem cell research center with the agency picking up $27 million of the cost.
“As UC Irvine has won increasing amounts of taxpayer money, its two professors who sit on the agency's board have risen in status on campus.
UC Irvine photo
“Professor Susan Bryant, an expert in regenerative medicine, was dean of the School of Biological Sciences when she was named to the agency's board in 2004. She was then promoted to vice-chancellor of research. In July, she was named the university's interim executive vice-chancellor and provost, its second most powerful administrator.
“When Professor Oswald Steward, a stem cell scientist, joined the agency's board in 2004, he was director of UCI's Reeve-Irvine Research Center for Spinal Injury. Since then, the scientists working in his center have received millions of dollars in grants from the agency. In May, the university rewarded Steward with an additional title: senior associate dean of research for the School of Medicine.”
“The two professors are prohibited from receiving any agency funds for their own scientific work. But so much money has been funneled into the stem cell field in California that it can be difficult to show their continued scientific efforts are not somehow benefiting. For example, Bryant co-authored a scientific article in 2009 with nine other scientists about the genetics of salamanders, which can regenerate limbs. In the report, the group recognized the state agency for partially funding their work. Bryant said that the money was received by another scientist in the group who was not employed by UC Irvine. She said the state agency has never given a grant for research involving salamanders. 'I have never-ever benefited from CIRM funding,' Bryant said using the agency's acronym.
UC Irvine photo
“Steward said he stopped his stem cell research when he joined the board in 2004. His board position, he said, 'has prevented me from taking on lines of research I otherwise would do.'
“Tom Vasich, a campus spokesperson, said Bryant and Stewart's positions on the agency's board played no part in their promotions and success at the school.”