Stem-cell central

We’ve applied for a job and will wait to find out if it is ours.

Yes, Sacramento put in a bid to become headquarters for the newly formed California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. And guess what? A few weeks ago we were named No. 2, behind San Francisco, on the list of cities picked as finalists to become ground zero for the largest state-run scientific research project in the nation’s history.

It’s an important job and we want it.

Six months ago, Proposition 71 was put on the statewide ballot as a kind of end-run around President George W. Bush, who had just curtailed stem-cell research by prohibiting government scientists from working on all but a few embryonic stem-cell lines. Bush opposed the research as a nod to those whose hostility to such work is an extension of their anti-abortion position, since these cells can be found in embryos and fetuses.

Basically, the measure passed and provided money—$3 billion in state bonds—to allow scientists to pursue research they say may one day be used to develop medical advances that could mean cures and therapies for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer and more.

Now the agency voters created is being launched. And Sacramento ranks high as its potential home because of the region’s new tag team: Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo and UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef. The pair teamed up as co-boosters, touting the region (with its proximity to government officials, a growing high tech industry and burgeoning biomedical research community) and UC Davis (with its research chops in the life sciences, primate center, etc.)

Add to that our lower housing costs and shorter commute times, as compared to San Francisco, and Sacramento conceivably might get the job. (The fact that the Tsakopoulos family just offered a free 10-year lease at One Capitol Mall for the 17,000 square feet of office space the institute requires won’t hurt either.)

But there’s an even more important reason why Sacramento should get this job and it has to do with secrecy v. sunshine.

Though in its infancy, the institute already has been targeted by critics who say it has been operating too much in secret and may have violated state open-meeting laws. Also, the 29-member board of the agency (appointed by Governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other electeds) is composed of individuals who have myriad conflicts of interest as they represent research universities and biotechnology companies that will surely apply for grants.

Institute officials seem to be learning that they are taxpayer funded and must conduct their business in public and enact conflict-of-interest rules. But the wording of Proposition 71, which included privacy provisions to protect patients and other data deemed confidential, will always make sunshine issues at this agency cloudy at best. So what better location than Sacramento—with its taxpayer attentiveness, watchdog organizations and capital press corp—to keep this agency above reproach in its role to safeguard the public’s interest in all things stem-cell?

Add it all up and Sacramento is the logical site. Here’s hoping we get the gig.