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California Stem Cell Research Program Update

Genetic Crossroads
March 17th, 2008

The leadership of the California stem cell research program, now with new president Alan Trounson on board, continues to generate headlines - but not the kind it wants.

As the state plunges deeper into a fiscal crisis, the agency, which is publicly funded via a dedicated $3 billion budget stream, proposed that its already highly-paid staff receive salary raises of up to 50%, which would put the top of the range at $620,000. However, the full board later settled for a 23% raise, which still places staff salaries "considerably" higher than positions at the National Institutes of Health.

And at a recent meeting of its Standards Working Group, the new president proposed an end-run around existing state law and agency policy that limit a market in eggs for cloning-based stem cell research. Trounson called for an "egg-sharing" plan under which women would be offered significant discounts on fertility treatments in exchange for a share of their extracted eggs. Both this and the salary proposal raised many eyebrows, even among the agency's own staff and board members.

Meanwhile, state senators Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) and George Runner (R-Lancaster) introduced a bipartisan bill to authorize California's Little Hoover Commission to investigate how the agency's governance structure might be changed to eliminate inherent conflicts of interest and ensure that all Californians have access to any treatments developed with its funds.


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