California Stem Cell Report
Since Prop 14's victory, Goldstein has been fighting back against his critics.
During fall's ballot battle for Proposition 14 furnishing another $5.5 billion in state bond funding to keep the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine afloat, it seemed to many like UC San Diego Health neuroscientist Larry Goldstein was on the campaign trail full time.
"Not only have a number of therapies been developed and proven to be useful, but we have numerous experimental therapies in progress," Goldstein, who had gotten $21 million in research funding from the institute, told San Diego public TV station KPBS in October.
Opponent Jeff Sheehy, a member of the institute’s board since its founding in 2004 with the first round of voter-approved debt provided by that year's Proposition 71, begged to differ.
"We've moved good research forward. We've done good work. So, I don't think the question is whether the work is good or not. The question is, did we ever talk about CIRM being something that would be funded forever with debt? And we did not. It was supposed to pay for itself, and it hasn't, and it needs to come back."
Sheehy isn't the only former insider to voice doubts about the controversial funding renewal, which was so narrowly passed by California voters that victory wasn't confirmed by the Associated Press until November 12, nine days after the election.
"Unfortunately, Proposition 14 sets a bad example for the use of public money for the advancement of science," neurobiologist Zach Hall, the institute's president from 2005 to 2007, told Nature following the election.
"As scientists, everybody always welcomes additional funding," Arlene Chiu, the institute's ex-director of scientific activities, added. "But as a Californian, one wonders if there are better ways to do this."
Since Prop 14's victory, Goldstein has been fighting back against his critics, writing in a January 15 editorial published by the journal Science, "The lives of many patients have improved because of CIRM. Notably, many CIRM-funded clinical trials rely on human embryonic or fetal stem cells, whereas the federal government currently does not fund any clinical trials using these types of cells."
But criticism, centered on conflicts of interest created by the stem cell institute's practice of giving away millions of dollars to institutions with affiliated board members, has continued.
"There were too many cases in which the ethics were strained to the limit," Jeanne Loring, a Scripps Research geneticist who has gotten $22 million for research from the institute, told Nature.
Last week Goldstein himself gained a seat on the stem cell institute's board, ending a 16-year history of absenting direct funding recipients as members, per Capitol Weekly.
"CIRM has accepted a board member who has personally received some $22 million in CIRM grants, and whose institution has received far more, Marcia Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, told the California Stem Cell Report.
"Proposition 14, which just last fall gave CIRM another $5.5 billion of public funding, should have been a chance for the agency to turn over a new leaf, but it made none of the changes that could have addressed the agency's built-in conflicts or other structural problems.
"Now it appears that CIRM will continue to flout basic principles of good governance, despite being a public agency wholly funded by public dollars. This is a real and ongoing problem."
Noted the California Stem Cell Report in a January 11 account: "Goldstein is barred by CIRM rules from applying for grants. The agency said yesterday that Goldstein has stepped away from his research with the exception of one project."
Critics, however, continue to point to Goldstein's new board role as an example of the institute's ongoing conflict of interest dilemma, as cited by the Institute of Medicine in a 2012 analysis commissioned by the institute.
"Far too many board members represent organizations that receive CIRM funding or benefit from that funding. These competing personal and professional interests compromise the perceived independence of (the CIRM governing board), introduce potential bias into the board's decision making, and threaten to undermine confidence in the board."