Thursday, January 12, 2006

CIRM, Cibelli, Korea and The Bee

An official of the California stem cell agency is taking issue with a Sacramento Bee editorial that indicated that CIRM was not taking the Korean scandal sufficiently seriously.

The editorial referred to a meeting Dec. 1 of the Standards Working Group. At that time, the Hwang affair had not surfaced completely, but it was evident that extremely serious problems existed.

Bernard Lo, co-chair of the group and director of the UC San Francisco Program in Medical Ethics, said in his letter:

"Contrary to the assertion that we went 'out of our way' to avoid discussion of Hwang's difficulties, a review of the written record of the Dec. 1 meeting of this committee, posted on Dec. 12, demonstrates that the Korean developments were the catalysts for extensive discussion on egg donation. The result was numerous recommendations to prohibit the practices that sparked the Korean controversy. Further, we have developed enforceable rules that exceed existing state and federal guidelines to ensure that research is conducted safely and ethically."
A search of the 263-page transcript shows that the word "Hwang" was mentioned twice and "Korea" or variations of it popped up eight times. Obviously such a simple count does not measure the quality of the discussion. Korea did trigger some exchanges, and the group also discussed a wide range of ethical subjects, including the value of a woman's eggs.

One of the members of the standards group is Jose Cibelli, a reknown Michigan State University scientist. He is also a co-author of the fraudulent March 2004 paper by Hwang that reported the first-ever closed human stem-cell line. Cibelli was present at the December meeting and participated in the discussions.

Queried by the California Stem Cell Report, a spokeswoman for Michigan State said,
"Michigan State University is conducting an investigation into Dr. Cibelli’s role on the '04 paper, where he is listed as a co-author. The investigation was started at Dr. Cibelli’s request. Given the investigation, there won’t be any comment available. For more information on the process, see:
We should note that CIRM officials have stated in the past that scientists are often reluctant to criticize their peers' work in public. It is one of their justifications for maintaining closed door reviews of grant applications.

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