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Stem cell agency’s key meetings going live on the Internet

A simulated view through a microscope of bacterias in the shape of California. (Illustration: Pat Bengtsson, via Shutterstock)

(To our readers:  Capitol Weekly welcomes David Jensen, a new contributor who will provide regular, in-depth coverage of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, CIRM, the state’s stem cell agency.  Jensen, virtually alone among California reporters, has tracked CIRM closely for more than a decade. He is the editor-publisher of the California Stem Cell Report.

With no fanfare, California’s $3 billion stem cell agency is making a significant step forward in openness and transparency regarding the dealings of its governing board, which operates outside of the control of the governor and Legislature.

Tuesday’s meeting of the directors’ Science Subcommittee will be available live for the first time — for all practical purposes — on the Internet and as an audiocast, including access to presentations that are used at the meeting. The agency intends to allow public access for other directors’ subcommittee meetings as well.

The move appears to be patterned after action by state Treasurer John Chiang, whose office holds many public meetings involving sometimes billions of dollars.  Last summer he added an audiocast feature to treasurer’s meetings.

Major policy and scientific initiatives are discussed in more detail than at full board meetings

A spokesman for the treasurer told the California Stem Cell Report last summer that Chiang wanted to enhance public access and to “increase public participation in and increase awareness of the many boards, commissions and authorities” that he chairs. The treasurer’s office said the cost was much less than $100 a session.

Tuesday’s stem cell audiocast follows procedures of the full board but never applied to other meetings of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, as the agency is formally known.

Last month, the stem cell agency attempted to provide an audiocast, which are also available for later listening, of a subcommittee meeting. However, the audiocast was not accessible for subsequent public use. The problem seemed to be a technical glitch because the agency said that it could be heard when CIRM staffers logged in.

The new rules would affect use of grant funds that are not spent by the end of the research

Generally subcommittee meetings of the board rarely attract attendees from the public or the scientific community. However, major policy and scientific initiatives are discussed in more detail than at full board meetings. Suggestions for changes in proposals are more likely to be accepted in a subcommittee than at full board meetings, where proposals are ratified, usually without much discussion.

One of the proposed changes appears to give the agency more power to pull the plug on research when it is not progressing satisfactorily by agency standards.

At Tuesday’s meeting, for example, the Science Subcommittee is scheduled to act on new rules that will involve hundreds of millions of dollars in grants. Hundreds of California scientists engaged in basic and translational research as well as the progress of their efforts are likely to be affected. Educational training awards will also see new rules.

A memo to the subcommittee from Gabriel Thompson, director of grants management, said that the proposed rules are “designed to attract more high quality applications, reduce the cycle time from application to project start, accelerate progression of funded projects and provide for more efficient administration of the projects.”

One of the proposed changes appears to give the agency more power to pull the plug on research when it is not progressing satisfactorily by agency standards. The new rules would affect use of grant funds that are not spent by the end of the research. Past performance of grantees would also be established as a criteria for future funding.

Interested parties can find directions for logging into the Internet and audiocast on the meeting agenda. Some set-up may be required so it is best to check in advance the instructions on the agenda. 

The meeting will be based at the agency’s new headquarters in Oakland and is open to the public there. Teleconference locations where the public can speak to the committee as well as listen are available in Los Angeles and La Jolla. Addresses can be found on the agenda. Sphere: Related Content

Ed’s Note: David Jensen is a retired newsman who has followed the affairs of the $3 billion California stem cell agency since 2005 via his blog, the California Stem Cell Report, where this story first appeared.  He has published more than 4,000 items on California stem cell matters in the past 11 years. 


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