California stem cell plans stalled, but alive

Organizers continue to allocate funds and adopt guidelines, but some work has slowed due to pending lawsuit

By | February 8, 2006

Fifteen months after California voters passed legislation authorizing the state to pump $3 billion into stem cell research over 10 years, not a penny has been allocated or spent -- the result of two pending lawsuits. But these roadblocks haven't stopped organizers, who continue to approve grants, adopt ethical guidelines, and otherwise move forward with the still-phantom project. The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the body set up to administer the massive project, has been operating on $3 million in loans from the state and a $5 million philanthropic grant, and is currently funded through June, Nicole Pagano, the institute's spokeswoman, told The Scientist. The institute also has approved $38.9 million in training grants to 16 state institutions, expected to come out of $50 million bond anticipation notes that should be approved in the coming weeks, Pagano noted. And CIRM's governing body, the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee (ICOC), is set to adopt ethics and intellectual property guidelines on Feb. 10. Only a few more regulatory steps are necessary before the institute can begin soliciting more grant applications. But two lawsuits against CIRM scheduled to go to trial this month have put the money on hold indefinitely. The suits -- one brought by the People's Advocate and the National Tax Limitation Foundation, an arm of the National Tax Limitation Committee, and the other by the California Family Bioethics Council, a project of the pro-life California Family Council -- charge that the institute violates the California state constitution because state oversight of its spending is inadequate. The groups bringing both lawsuits oppose stem cell research on ethical grounds. Hank Greely, director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences and a professor of law at the university, said that even if the suits are resolved quickly, cash may not soon follow, since bond buyers may require that the appeals process be exhausted before they agree to give the state the money. "I would think that the end of 2006 would be the earliest one could hope for," Greely said. Although CIRM organizers are moving forward, the same cannot necessarily be said for schools, said Greely, noting that the holdup on CIRM funding has slowed recruiting, research, and facilities construction related to stem cell research at Stanford. "It hasn't brought us to a stop on any of those fronts, but it's been a pain." California State Senator Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) has also been keeping a close eye on CIRM, and plans to author legislation that will address financial disclosure requirements, open meeting and public records disclosure, protection of state financial contributions, and protection for women who donate eggs for stem cell research, Hallye Jordan, a spokeswoman for the senator, told The Scientist. "The ICOC has taken steps in the right direction, but the senator believes that there's still more that needs to be done," Jordan said. The Center for Genetics and Society, a group that favors stem cell research but opposed the California program, also called last month for the resignation of Bob Klein, CIRM's chairman of the board, arguing Klein misrepresented the cost of the program and its promise. Despite the holdup, stem cell research in the state is moving forward, said Arnold Kriegstein, director of the University of California at San Francisco's Institute for Stem Cell and Tissue Biology, created in 2002. UCSF has derived 11 new stem cell lines grown on human feeder cells, and is renovating space on campus to house non-NIH-funded stem cell work, he told The Scientist. In fact, Kriegstein argued, the delay could be a kind of blessing in disguise. "It's allowed our program and others in the state to become better organized, to have new facilities in place, new programs initiated," he said. "Getting a bit of a delay actually might strengthen in many ways the kind of grant applications that will ultimately be submitted to the CIRM." Links within this article California Institute of Regenerative Medicine A.McCook, "California stem cell ball rolling, sort of," The Scientist, September 15, 2005. National Tax Limitation Committee California Family Council M. Chorost, "International symposium on stem cell collaboration," The Scientist, February 8, 2006. Hank Greely C. Magill, "International symposium on stem cell collaboration," The Scientist, February 8, 2006. State Senator Deborah Ortiz Center for Genetics and Society Kriegstein Lab UCSF Institute for Stem Cell and Tissue Biology

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