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Calif. stem cell agency to change grant system

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- The governing board of California's stem cell funding agency has voted to overhaul how it distributes scientific grants after critics raised concerns that too many board members represented schools that have won funding.

The final proposal is expected to be decided by a vote on March 13, and if accepted would bar California Institute for Regenerative Medicine board members associated with grant-eligible institutions from voting on where the money goes.

Thirteen of the 29 board members are associated with schools that receive grants, which have raised concerns over conflicts of interest, the San Francisco Chronicle reported ( ).

The members represent a many constituencies, including patient advocates and representatives from the biotech industry and research institutions.

The vote follows a report by the Institute of Medicine that found the agency should restructure its system for distributing grants.

The study did not find specific conflicts, but said the appearance of a conflict could hamper the agency's future goals.

The stem cell agency was created in 2004 after state voters approved Proposition 71, which funded human embryonic stem cell research at a time when there were federal restrictions and opposition from some religious groups.

The agency has broad powers to distribute $3 billion in bond money, and has so far doled out more than $1 billion to some five dozen universities. Most of that money has funded new buildings and basic research.

Jonathan Thomas, chairman of the governing board, said the new funding rules will help move the agency past these conflict-of-interest concerns.

"It's my earnest hope that having gotten past these issues that have nagged us, that the focus will turn to where it should be, which is the groundbreaking work we fund," Thomas told the Chronicle.


Information from: San Francisco Chronicle,

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