Stem cell forum attracts international field, shows state’s influence 

In an indication of California’s growing influence in regenerative science circles, according to state officials, 21 stem cell research institutes from around the world are coming together in San Francisco for a two-day forum that starts today.

A total of 19 countries will be represented at the annual meeting of the International Stem Cell Forum, which will review such topics as a registry for human embryonic stem cell lines, and moral and ethical standards for the research.

This is the sixth annual meeting and the first time California has hosted the event, signaling the large role the agency and city will play in stem cell research in the years to come, according to California Institute of Regenerative Medicine officials, including President Alan Trounson.

"Having a major forum like this that didn’t come to California would say something," Trounson said. "They see California as the leadership in the world."

State voters established CIRM with Proposition 71 in 2004, providing $3 billion in bond funding for the research. Litigation challenging the proposition tied up the agency’s ability to issue funding until February 2007, when the State Court of Appeal affirmed the constitutionality of Proposition 71, although Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger loaned the agency $150 million and private donors stepped up with funding so the agency could hand out grants while the lawsuits were settled.

Since April 2006, CIRM has handed out 156 grants totaling $260 million to 22 institutions, according to the agency. CIRM is the biggest funder of human embryonic stem cell research in the world because of Proposition 71, CIRM spokeswoman Ellen Rose said.

Today is also the deadline for applications for the second phase of major facilities grants. CIRM is expected to hand out $262 million to institutes and universities applying for the money, Trounson said.

"They kind of got everything up and running under very difficult challenges with the lawsuits," said John Simpson, with the nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a watchdog group closely following the San Francisco-based institute. "Now the real problem is they’ve got to settle in for the long term."

Last year the Institute had four different acting presidents after Zach Hall retired in April. Lori Hoffman, the Institute’s chief finance and administrative officer for the agency, took over as acting president for Hall, but in August Dr. Richard Murphy became interim president. Trounson became the head in December 2007.

dsmith@examiner.com

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