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California stem-cell agency discloses grant-review conflict

Leroy Hood

Leroy Hood

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Leroy Hood, head of a prominent research institute in Seattle, Washington, violated conflict-of-interest rules when he reviewed a friend’s grant, California’s stem-cell agency disclosed in a letter to the state legislature.

The 2 April letter was first reported by the California Stem Cell Report, an independent blog that covers the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), a US$3-billion agency established in 2004.

Hood, a DNA-sequencing pioneer who is president of the Institute for Systems Biology, reviewed a $24-million application to CIRM that included Irving Weissman, a stem-cell scientist at Stanford University in California. Hood and Weissman are good friends and own a ranch together in Montana — a fact that Hood did not disclose when he completed a conflict of interest disclosure.

It was Hood’s first stint reviewing a CIRM grant, and he was not aware of the agency’s conflict-of-interest rules, the letter said. The application (for a genomics data centre and three research projects) was unsuccessful, and Hood’s conflict-of-interest violation did not break any laws. Hood did not review the part of the application that directly involved his pal, and the National Medal of Science winner was not involved in the decision to reject the application. Another grant reviewer raised the potential conflict.

CIRM’s president, Alan Trounson, has been a guest at the ranch, and the stem-cell scientist was the one who recruited Hood to become a reviewer for the agency, CIRM told California Stem Cell Report.

A December 2012 US Institute of Medicine review of CIRM called for changes at the agency to address conflicts of interest on the agency’s board, among other issues (see ‘Scientific panel recommends changes to California’s stem cell institute’.


  1. Report this comment

    Kevin McCormack said:

    While Dr. Hood did inadvertently make a mistake in failing to report a potential conflict of interest in this review it’s important to note that the stem cell agency’s conflict of interest policies are much stricter than other state agencies. In fact, Dr. Hood’s actions would have been permitted had he been working with any other California agency. As a first-time reviewer with us it’s perfectly understandable that he would not be aware of just how much stricter our policies are. We have since revised our procedures in working with first-time reviewers to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

    Another point is that the Institute of Medicine report did not cite any conflicts of interest on our governing Board, it merely pointed out that there was a potential perception of conflicts of interest. There had never been any instance where a person who had a conflict voted on any funding issue. Nonetheless we made some rather sweeping changes to the way our Board operates to remove even the perception of a conflict.

    Kevin McCormack, Communications Director, CIRM

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