Stem Cell Institute’s Handling of Scandal-Plagued Advisor Demonstrates Preference for Secrecy

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Santa Monica, CA — The California stem cell institute’s handling this week of the case of a key scientific advisor caught up in the Korean stem cell research scandal demonstrates its high-handed preference for secrecy, a consumer advocacy group said today.

“The stem cell institute just doesn’t seem to understand that it’s a state agency,” said John M. Simpson, Stem Cell Project director for the Foundation of Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. (FTCR) “They need to tell the public what’s going on. Instead, when the facts are inconvenient, they stonewall or hope nobody will notice. Their behavior only undermines the institute’s credibility and, sadly, the stem cell research projects they hope to sponsor.”

FTCR explained what happened: Jose Cibelli, a stem cell researcher at the Michigan State University was a key scientific advisor on the stem cell institute’s Scientific and Medical Accountability Working Group. Those are the advisors who are supposed to help draw up rules to ensure that stem cell research funded by Prop 71 is conducted ethically. In 2004 Cibelli was listed as co-author of a now debunked fraudulent scientific paper with Korea’s celebrity stem cell researcher, Hwang Woo-Suk. It’s not clear if Cibelli knew what Hwang did or was duped. His university is investigating his role in the scandal.

“However the investigation turns out, it’s clear that Cibelli is not the right person to be advising California on ethical research standards,” said Simpson.

The Sacramento Bee Editorial Page raised the Cibelli issue with the stem cell institute. The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) on Wednesday told the paper that Cibelli had “voluntary withdrawn from his activities on the Standards Working Group, as of Tuesday.” As of Friday morning, the only indication of the situation on CIRM‘s website was a footnote on the posted list of working group members. It reads, “Voluntarily withdrawn from active membership until further notice.”

Meanwhile the oversight committee’s panel on governance plans to meet Friday, Jan. 27, in San Diego. “Appropriately,” said Simpson, “Item four on the agenda is consideration of a policy for removal of working group members.”

CIRM‘s disclosure in a footnote can be found at its website:

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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) is California’s leading nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization. Click here for more information about stem research in California.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
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