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2007 in Review: Controversy Escalates at California Stem Cell Program

Genetic Crossroads
December 21st, 2007

Despite a major court victory in May, the California stem cell research program spent much of 2007 dealing with stumbles and scandals. The state Supreme Court rejected the challenge to the program's constitutionality brought by anti-abortion and small- government groups, but staff and leadership at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) are now facing problems caused by the program's flawed enabling law and board chair:

The public agency has found it difficult to retain key staff members, with the most notable loss being that of President Zach Hall.

CHA Regenerative Medicine Institute, a recipient of one of CIRM's first grants, had to withdraw its request after revelations that called its status as a nonprofit organization into doubt, and that implicated its leadership in accusations of plagiarism and unethical egg procurement.

CIRM board chair Robert Klein came under fire for lending his support to a controversial land development proposal, soon after the developer generously donated to Klein's private lobbying organization.

Several members of CIRM's board who are also executives at research institutions eligible for CIRM funding attempted to influence the fate of grant applications from their home institutions. In particular, Burnham Institute president John Reed is the subject of a conflict-of-interest investigation by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission because of a strongly worded seven-page letter he wrote to CIRM staff regarding an application from a Burnham researcher.

The Sacramento Bee unequivocally called on Klein to resign, and the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times said that it was time for "stem cell housecleaning."


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