The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has appointed Professor Alan Trounson as its new president, following a committee vote on Friday last week. Professor Trounson is a renowned Australian scientist and currently the director of Monash University's stem cell program in Melbourne. The CIRM is the biggest financial backer of human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research in the US.
Trounson founded the Australian Stem Cell Centre in 2003 and is well-known globally for his work in the areas of stem cell and IVF. He is probably best known for the first IVF birth in Australia, in 1980, as well as for being one of the first to successfully use frozen/thawed embryos in IVF, having developed the technique in farm animals. More than four million children have since been born using previously frozen embryos.
In November 2004, 59 per cent of Californians voted in favour of Proposition 71, which established the CIRM and authorised it to issue bonds to fund stem cell research in the state - including work on human ES cells. However, in April 2006, a lawsuit challenging the setting up of the CIRM was begun, arguing that the institute was unconstitutional, because the spending of taxpayer's money must be under state control.
In May this year, it was ruled that the CIRM stem cell programme was free to start distributing its $3 billion funding to researchers, following the refusal of the state's Supreme Court to consider a further legal challenge. The high court upheld last year's ruling by a lower court, which upheld the constitutionality of the CIRM. The state was expected to begin issuing a series of bonds to fund new stem cell research projects and laboratories from June.
Welcoming Professor Trounson to the new role, Dr George Daley, a Harvard University researcher and president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, described him as 'a world-class scientist', adding that 'his own scientific work is going to take a secondary role'. Trounson says that he hopes to start work at CIRM by the end of the year. Explaining why he took the job, he said: 'I asked myself what else I could do to help move stem cell research to deliver into the clinic, and is this going to be more productive toward that than doing another set of experiments'. He added: 'I think this job does that'. He also said that the resources in California were 'incredible', explaining that there are 'some of the best people in the world and you've put money behind it. These people are going to do incredible things'. 'California has the opportunity to lead everywhere else in the world', he concluded.