Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Seven Researchers Appeal in $35 Million California Stem Cell Round

Three more researchers are attempting to overturn rejection of their applications for millions from the $3 billion California stem cell agency, including one who reported detecting an "evil" stem cell earlier this year.

They are competing in the $35 million basic biology grant round to be acted on tomorrow and Thursday by the governing board of the agency. They join four other scientists who are also asking the board to overturn reviewer rejection of their applications.

The latest three appellants are Song Li of UC Berkeley, who is seeking $1.3 million: Yanhong Shi of the City of Hope, who is asking for $1.4 million, and Wange Lu of USC, who is seeking $1.3 million..

Of the total of seven researchers appealing decisions, five received higher scientific scores on their applications than the lowest approved by reviewers.

Of the latest three appellants, Shi received a scientific score of 70, ranking above three grants approved by reviewers. Li's application received a scientific score of 67, ranking above two grants approved by reviewers. Li received international attention last June with published research that identified an “evil” stem cell involving heart disease. CIRM did not release a score for Lu's application but its review summary was listed below that of the lowest scoring application that was approved.

The lower scoring but successful applications were all given the go-ahead on the basis of “programmatic” reasons, which one CIRM document says is designed to allow “consideration of issues beyond scientific merit, such as disease representation and societal impact.” 

Shi defended her application on what CIRM might call programmatic grounds. She also pointed to new developments in her research. Li pointed to his “ground-breaking” findings in June to support his application, research, in this case, that was published. (Li's research on "evil" stem cells was reported early in June, more than two weeks prior to the review of his application. It is unclear whether the research was part of the discussion about his application.)  Lu said that reviewer comments on her application were “biased away from the current state of the art.”

The seven appeals follow a record outpouring in July. During this week's week meeting, the CIRM governing board is expected to move to curb researcher appeals. More are likely be heard in the future as the reviewers diverge from scientific scores as they make their decisions.

(Editor's note: The information on the timing of Li's research on "evil" stem cells and review of his application was not included last night in the original version of this item.)

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