Thursday, July 02, 2020

Bert Lubin: A Memory from a Sickle Cell Moment in 2008



Bert Lubin died last week. He was a member of the board of the California stem cell agency for a number of years, but what I remember him for was an appearance he made before the agency's governing board in 2008. 

Back then he was not serving as a member of the board. Instead he was a supplicant. And he was the first person to appear before the board seeking to reverse a negative decision by CIRM's reviewers.  

Lubin lost but not without raising a not-so-discreet ruckus. 

One board member, Gerald Levey, then dean of the UCLA School of Medicine, was more than irritated by Lubin's appeal of the reviewers' decision. I wrote at the time, 

"Levey said, "I don't think we can run a board this way. If we do, it would be chaos." 

"Levey was responding to a request by Lubin for a 10 minute presentation...of Childrens' case. Levey warned that allowing the presentation would lead to 50 other rejected applicants coming to the board.

"Director Joan Samuelson said that even 100 persons would be okay with her. She provoked laughter when she declared that the number would show more interest than at any other board meeting," the California Stem Cell Report wrote.


Ironically, the application involved sickle cell disease, a program that Lubin pioneered at Children's Hospital Oakland. In 2008, sickle cell was receiving little or no attention from CIRM. Today the agency is more than proud of its sickle cell arrangement with the National Institutes of Health.

Earlier this week, Kevin McCormack, senior director of communications for CIRM, wrote an item on Lubin for the agency's blog, The Stem Cellar. McCormack quoted Lubin as saying, 
"When I became the director of the research program we had $500,000 in NIH grants and when I left we had $60 million. We just grew. Why did we grow? Because we cared about the faculty and the community. We had a lovely facility, which was actually the home of the Black Panther party. It was the Black Panthers who started screening for sickle cell on street corners here in Oakland, and they were the start of the national sickle cell act so there’s a history here and I like that history. 
"Then I got a sense of the opportunities that stem cell therapies would have for a variety of things, certainly including sickle cell disease, and I thought if there’s a chance to be on the CIRM Board, as an advocate for that sickle cell community, I think I’d be a good spokesperson. So, I applied. I just thought this was an exciting opportunity."I thought it was a natural fit for me to add some value, I only want to be on something where I think I add value.” 
"Bert added value to everything he did."

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