California Stem Cell Research Agency Wrongfully Takes Credit for Success

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 1, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

California Stem Cell Research Agency Wrongfully Takes Credit for Success

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 21
, 2008

Sacramento, CA ( — The California agency created to fund stem cell research and human cloning projects is taking credit it doesn’t deserve for a recent success with stem cells. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine took credit for funding a human trial involving adult stem cells that it funded very late in the process.

California’s stem cell agency overstated and hyped the importance of its funding in enabling clinical trials for a drug to treat a severe blood disorder.

That’s the assessment of Consumer Watchdog, a taxpayer’s group, which says the claims are seriously undercutting the agency’s credibility and alienating those who support publicly funded stem cell research.

Last week, CIRM issued a news release titled "First Clinical Trial Begins for a Therapy Enabled By CIRM Funding."

The announcement even drew a comment from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who issued a release saying CIRM funding led to the discovery.

"I am proud of our state’s commitment to stem cell research, which delivers the best promise in finding treatments for deadly and debilitating diseases," the governor said.

However, the initial CIRM news release about the clinical trial said the research team headed by UCSD’s Catriona Jamieson was funded by a stem cell SEED grant approved in February 2007.

That grant was given to fund the derivation of cancer-causing stem cells from human embryonic stem cells. Yet, the research that led to the clinical trial did not involve human embryonic stem cells.

The CIRM funded grant of $613,305 was officially received from the university on August 31, 2007 but the paper outlining the research findings was submitted to "Cancer Cell" on September 19, 2007.

That means CIRM’s grant played essentially no role in the success story, according to John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog.

"There is important scientific work here that led quickly to an important clinical trial," he said. "But the fact is that CIRM is jumping on the bandwagon claiming credit for contributions that were at best rather trivial."

"CIRM is too eager to claim immediate results," Simpson added. "Certainly we’ll see great benefit as the result of stem cell research, but this political manipulation and hype does a tremendous disservice to all who believe in the value of this research."

After questions surfaced about the claims in the CIRM press release, Simpson says the agency modified the version posted on its web site to note that an earlier CIRM training grant had gone to pay the salary of a post doctoral researcher in Jamieson’s laboratory.

"Stem cell agency officials repeatedly say, ‘It’s all about the science,’" said Simpson. "If only that were true. More often than not — as in this case — it’s all about appearances, hype and claiming credit."

CIRM was created after the passage of Proposition 71 by 59 percent of Californians voting in 2004. California taxpayers will ultimately pay $6 billion for grants and interest to fund the project.

California-based attorney and author Wesley Smith says problems have confounded the agency since its founding.

"What a disaster the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has been," he said. " Management incompetence, fat executive raises in spite of the incompetence, conflict of interest charges sparking an official investigation, the list goes on and on."

"And now, it appears the CIRM tried to take credit that it did not deserve for funding research that made it to human trials," he concluded.