Sunday, January 14, 2007

Two Years Before the Stem Cell Mast

Two years ago this month, the California Stem Cell Report began its journey into the multibillion dollar world of embryonic stem cell research.

Since then, we have published more than 900 items on California's extraordinary and unique effort to pump up one of science's more controversial areas of research. Readers have paged through the website tens of thousands of times. They came from throughout the nation and the world, seeking more information about what the small band at CIRM is doing on King Street in San Francisco. (Editor's note: More recent and additional information can be found in an Sept. 17, 2007, article on

The reception has been generally favorable. "The ultimate source for all things California" is how Jim Fossett, director of health and Medicaid studies at the Rockefeller Institute, described the Report on the blog of the American Journal of Bioethics. "Comprehensive," "first thing I read in the morning," "enormously valuable" are some of the comments from other readers, whose numbers include law firms, newspapers and biotech companies. Studies of the California stem cell agency have cited the California Stem Cell Report (CSCR) as a source. University instructors use it as part of their curriculum.

Yahoo nows ranks the site No. 1 and Google No. 4 when using the search term "california stem cell." The rankings are up from near invisibility on the search engines when we began this endeavor in January 2005, less than a month after the first meeting of CIRM's Oversight Committee.

We started this website largely because we were interested in the subject and wanted to learn more. Given our professional background as a newspaper editor (now retired), former state Capitol reporter and gubernatorial press aide, we figured we might as well write about the subject and share the information with others.

It is not often that one can explore an area that stands on the cutting edge of science and medicine, that combines big business, academia, politics and government in a way never seen before in California, perhaps in the country. Not to mention the heated and sensitive religious, ethical and moral issues surrounding embryonic stem cell research, along with the hopes for cures for millions afflicted with diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer. CIRM is an agency – created directly by the people of the state, not the legislature or governor – that plans to give away $3 billion in public funds, basically unsupervised by the normal processes of state oversight. And its directors – voters decided – come from some of the universities and institutions that would benefit directly from its research and building grants.

We surmised that others would also be interested in CIRM but simply would not be able to find all they wanted to know, given the media's practice of covering only the most high profile news. That has proven to be the case. CIRM is virtually invisible to the public and much of the scientific and business community, if they rely on the mainstream media. It is even something of a low profile matter for the scientific media, and even lower in the business press.

Nonetheless the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has become a benchmark worldwide and nationally for a number of issues including treatment of egg donors and intellectual property rights. CIRM has pioneered new and higher standards in both areas.

We have attended numerous CIRM meetings and visited CIRM headquarters several times. On one occasion, we covered the CIRM lawsuit trial live, filing items directly from our laptop in the courtroom in Hayward. Our reporting largely relies, however, on the Internet, sifting through government documents, news stories and email from a variety of contacts.

Since we travel regularly, gaining access to the Internet is always a challenge. We have used wireless connections in public libraries in San Mateo, San Diego and Santa Barbara and while at anchor on a sailboat in bays in Mexico. At other times, we filed via satellite uplinks, Internet cafes and hotel Web services and used a datacard for Mexican cellular service.

All of that would have been impossible 10 years ago, prior to today's advances in computer and Internet technology.

We hope the California Stem Cell Report has provided information that cannot be found elsewhere as well as serving as a guide and source of analysis and commentary on the Golden State's ambitious effort. We also hope that it has become something of a repository for the full text of California stem cell information that does not have a good home elsewhere, whether it is the statements of California stem cell chairman Robert Klein, acting in a non-governmental role, or documents from critics of the agency.

We are planning improvements and changes in the Report for 2007 and welcome suggestions from our readers. We are particularly interested in bringing in more voices from the stem cell community. Please let us know what you think. What do you want to see more of? What do you want to see less of? Do you have questions that need answers? You can send them and your suggestions to djensen@californiastemcellreport. Or you can post them directly on the blog by clicking on the word "comment" below. If you wish, Google, the hosting service for the blog, provides for anonymous "comment" postings, whose authorship is totally encrypted.


  1. David,

    Two thoughts:

    Fierst, can you bring us more original profiles of key players. They need not be full blown epics, but perhaps based on e-mailed Q&As. Indeed a short intro leading into verbatim transcript of the Q&As could be very readable and informative. You could even include a mug shot when available.

    Second, anything you can do to increase comments would be appreciated. I think there is some software that makes them more visible, for instance.

    In any case, this is clearly the publication of record for all things related to stem cell research in California.

    Your should be commended for your efforts.

    John M. Simpson
    Stem Cll Project Director Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights

  2. John--
    Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated.

  3. Congratulations on your two-year anniversary, and on the high standings in search results! Your hard work is paying off. Here's wishing you success in 2007!

  4. Anonymous4:28 PM


    Congratulations on two years of superb bloggery. Your ability to keep up with the progress and machinations of CIRM is enviable, especially since you could be doing other things while watching the sun set in Baja. Keep up the good work. This next year promises to be very exciting.

    Stuart Leavenworth
    Associate Editor,
    The Sacramento Bee

  5. Anonymous7:36 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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