Thursday, November 15, 2007

Celebrity Leeza Gibbons Named as CIRM Director

The latest addition to the board of directors of the $3 billion California stem cell agency is former television talk show hostess, Leeza Gibbons.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Wednesday announced the appointment of Gibbons(shown in photo). She fills the post formerly held by scientist Leon Thal, who died in a plane crash last February. Gibbons fills a slot designated for a patient advocate for Alzheimers as the result of her nonprofit group, Leeza's Place, which is aimed at caregivers for persons with memory disorders.

Gibbons' celebrity status attracted more news coverage than the usual appointments to the CIRM Oversight Committee, which are almost invisible in the media. She co-hosted "Entertainment Tonight" from 1994 to 2000. This year, she appeared on the "Dancing with Stars" TV show, part of the so-called reality genre. She appeared in at least one movie, "Last Action Hero(1993)," with Schwarzenegger.

Gibbons may be the only member of the Oversight Committee with a personal web page and public blog, which can be found on her web site. However, she is not the only Hollywood figure to serve on the 29-member panel. Sherry Lansing, a former top film executive, has a seat on the board. Jonathan Shestack, a Hollywood producer, also is a member.

Gibbons' efforts with memory disorders grew out of her own family's experience with her mother, according to her web page.

The Leeza's Place site says,
"Developed in response to the challenges Leeza and her family encountered while seeking specific and needed support, Leeza's Place is a potent source of information, strength and purpose. Nestled within your own community, Leeza's Place is a multifaceted reprieve, for both caregivers and the recently diagnosed, that integrates educational programs, connective social activities, emotional support, and intergenerational programming designed to help you navigate through your community's continuum of care."
The site also sells books and information on dementia, such as "Brain Longevity" by Dharma Singh Khalsa and "scrapbooking" software, which is aimed at preserving memories. Also offered are a "memories forever" bracelet and a "comfort and care" candle.

The governor, whose motto is "action, action, action," left Thal's position vacant for nine months despite a provision in state law that requires Oversight Committee vacancies to be filled within 30 days. However, it is not uncommon in state government for such provisions to be ignored.

One vacancy now exists on the Oversight Committee: the slot occupied by Brian Henderson, dean of the USC School of Medicine. Henderson has retired from USC, which makes him ineligible to serve. Filling that vacancy is also the responsibility of the governor. Look for Henderson's replacement in nine months.

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