California has landed one of the biggest fish in the Pacific to head its stem cell venture. In a meeting late last Friday, the board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) approved the appointment of Alan Trounson as the institute's president. Trounson, one of Australia's premier stem cell researchers and director of stem cell research at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, joins an international roster of big-name researchers who have been lured by California's $3 billion stem cell research program, launched in 2004.
"Things are booming in California right now," says former CIRM president Zach Hall, who notes that Trounson's varied experience makes him "almost uniquely qualified for the job."
Trounson, 61, began his career working on sheep and cattle reproduction but quickly made a name for himself in human in vitro fertilization. He was neck-and-neck with Jamie Thomson of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison in the race to cultivate the first human embryonic stem (ES) cell lines in 1998. He is well versed in the managerial and entrepreneurial end of the stem cell world as founder of a number of Australian biotech companies and co-founder of ES Cell International, a Singapore-based company that recently halted work on human ES cell therapies (Science, 20 July, p. 305).
Those who know Trounson say his personal skills should smooth the way for cooperation with CIRM's high-profile board chair Robert Klein, who has more than once ruffled colleagues with his propensity to take unilateral actions. "Alan is charming, ... a lovely human being," says stem cell researcher Evan Snyder of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in San Diego, California. Researcher John Gearhart of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, Maryland, says he is "politically savvy," in addition to having a "very broad base of knowledge."
Trounson is one of several major stem cell scientists whom Australia has lost to the United States lately, including Martin Pera, now at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and Paul Simmons, now at the University of Texas, Houston. Trounson himself has made it clear he regards the CIRM presidency as the capstone of his career. "This is the biggest job in stem cells in the world," he told the Australian paper The Sunday Age.
Trounson is expected to move to California by the end of the year and receive a salary of $475,000 plus additional allowance for San Francisco's high-priced housing. CIRM has already given out about $200 million in grants, and this month the state will start selling the first $250 million worth of bonds to finance the venture, which until now has been supported by private contributions and a state loan.