Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In Rare Negative Vote, CIRM Directors Nix $6.3 Million Grant Application

Directors of the California stem cell agency today rejected a $6.3 million grant to recruit an unidentified researcher to the Buck Institute after some of CIRM's grant reviewers raised questions about his/her research, achievements and experience.

The CIRM governing board voted 3-16 with two abstentions on the grant, which scored 76 out of 100 during a closed-door session of reviewers earlier this month. Directors were told that the grants review group voted 11-6 to approve the application.

The CIRM board almost never rejects a recommendation from grant reviewers.

During the board's discussions, several directors raised questions about whether CIRM would be paying -- with the grant -- for research that did not fit within its objectives. Others said the intent of the agency's recruitment grant program was to attract the best scientists to California.

The research proposal was the subject of an unusual, dissenting minority report by reviewers. The CIRM staff-prepared review summary said,
"A motion to recommend the application for funding carried with a majority vote. Because the motion was opposed by more than 35% of members, opponents have exercised their right to have that position reported to the ICOC(the CIRM governing board). The GWG(grant review group) members raised three main opposing points. First, some GWG members were not convinced that the research program proposed by the candidate, despite its scientific merits in a simple model organism (the fruitfly Drosophila), would be translated effectively to mammalian models and human studies. Thus, they questioned whether the work would have significant impact on CIRM's mission of advancing stem cell research toward therapies. Second, some GWG members felt that the candidate's research vision did not extend far beyond significant discoveries to which the candidate has already contributed, and was, therefore, solid and safe but not venturesome or compelling. Third, although the candidate is clearly a rising star, some GWG members were concerned that the candidate's achievements and experience were not yet sufficiently mature for the leadership position expected under this award."
However, the review summary also said,
"The goal of the proposed research is to expand the study of molecular pathways mediating stem cell aging and to extend these investigations into mammalian cells....The proposed studies will investigate the regulation of stem cell activity and aging in response to nutritional conditions and environmental stress. These efforts could yield new insights into a range of chronic diseases and lead to therapeutic approaches to maintain or restore adult stem cell function in humans. "

"The candidate’s emerging leadership and recognition by the field has been reflected in numerous invitations to speak at major meetings and to contribute reviews and commentaries to leading journals. The PI (applicant) was lauded in outstanding letters from leaders in the field of stem cell aging research. They described the candidate as a highly energetic, innovative, and focused scientist who is recognized internationally as a critical thought leader making fundamental contributions to the understanding of aging mechanisms."
Normally the names of institutions connected to grant applications are not disclosed prior to board approval. However, the name of the Buck Institute was mentioned during the discussion about the application. Votes by the grants review group are also not normally disclosed during board discussions.

The award would have been the fourth in CIRM's $44 million programt to help recruit stem cell researchers to California.

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