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For Immediate Release: March 22nd, 2007
Contact:  Marcy Darnovsky, 510-625-0819 x305
Jesse Reynolds, 510-625-0819, ext 308

Public Interest Group Calls for California Stem Cell Agency to Investigate its Controversial Grant

Lawsuit alleges fertility center director lied to obtain woman’s eggs;
foreign corporation’s eligibility for public funds due to its recently established non-profit California subsidiary

An array of troubling questions has surfaced about a research institute that was awarded $2.6 million last week by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to pursue cloning-based stem cell research.

“The leadership of CHA Health Systems has a shadowed recent history, including a lawsuit that alleges the director of its fertility center lied in order to obtain a woman’s eggs,” said Dr. Marcy Darnovsky, Associate Director of the Center for Genetics and Society. “The CIRM needs to live up to its oft-stated commitments to transparency and responsibility by freezing this multi-million dollar award while a thorough investigation is undertaken. If questions cannot be satisfactorily answered, the grant should be rescinded.”

Last week, the state’s $3 billion stem cell research agency approved the grant to a California nonprofit subsidiary, CHA Regenerative Medicine Institute, established last year by the South Korea-based corporation. CIRM grants are limited to California-based institutions, and this round of awards was for nonprofit organizations.

“Did CHA Health Systems establish this subsidiary in order to pursue California public funding, at a time when South Korea government funds were unavailable because of the Hwang Woo Suk cloning scandal?” asked Jesse Reynolds, CGS policy analyst. “Given the recent record of unethical conduct in this field, the CIRM should have known to exercise greater scrutiny.”  

The medical director of the CHA Fertility Center is the subject of a lawsuit filed by a woman who says that he lied about the number of eggs that had been collected from her, causing her to continue seeking treatment from him. The CHA Fertility Center and the CHA Regenerative Medicine Institute are located in the same Los Angeles office building.

“The lawsuit suggests that CHA’s leadership placed a woman at unnecessary risk by misleading her into undergoing repeated cycles of egg retrieval,” Darnovsky said. “Women’s health advocates have warned about the health risks of egg retrieval, as well as about likely conflicts of interest between fertility doctors conducting egg retrieval and researchers who want the eggs for their experiments.”

“Can we rely on existing CIRM policies, which amount to self-regulation, when groups such as CHA are being awarded grants?” asked Reynolds.

The Center for Genetics and Society is a public interest organization advocating the responsible use and effective societal governance of the new human biotechnologies. It supports human embryonic stem cell research and public funding for it, but has raised numerous concerns about the California stem cell research program and the conduct, oversight, and implications of stem cell research. For more information, see our website at www.genetics-and-society.organdblog, Biopolitical Times, at www.biopoliticaltimes.org.


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