Alan Trounson, scientist and innovator, to step down as President

Alan Trounson

Leading an organization, any organization, is never an easy task. There are tough decisions to be made at every step along the way, decisions that can affect the future of the organization and the fate of those working for it. And when that organization is pioneering a new way of accelerating a new kind of medical research, then it becomes even tougher.

For the last, almost, six years, we have been fortunate to have at the helm of the stem cell agency a leader whose vision, skill and expertise have taken us from the equivalent of a struggling start-up to a world leader in the field. Alan Trounson, PhD, has been a pivotal part of everything that we do. And now he has decided it is time to step down.

Alan is from Australia and he has a family back there. Anyone who has had to work far from home knows how difficult that is, how many family celebrations are missed, how many children’s birthdays you are not there for. So, much as he loves being President of the stem cell agency Alan loves his family even more and has decided he wants to spend more time with them.

He has told the governing Board of CIRM that he wants to step down (here’s our announcement). The Board asked Alan, and he graciously agreed, to remain as President while we begin a search for a successor. The Board also asked Alan if he would be willing to stay engaged with the agency in a role to be determined, and Alan is considering that request.

Finding someone to replace him won’t be easy. Heading an organization that is a state agency, a funder of medical research, and a driving force in creating a whole new industry in California requires whoever runs it to wear many hats. Alan did all that. And more.

When Alan was named President in 2007 Dr. George Daley, a professor at Harvard University and the president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, called him “a terrific, inspired choice.” Dr. Daley said: “This position is going to be the single most important steward of stem cell research internationally. To have someone of Alan’s prominence in this role is recognition of the incredible impact California is having on the field.”

He is a true innovator, not content to just find the best science to fund but to also find new ways to move the entire field forward. He came up with the concept of an Alpha Stem Cell Clinic, a specialist medical center capable of delivering this new way of treating disease. He pushed for us to create an iPS Cell Bank for researchers, a resource that will enable researchers to access high quality stem cells to do some groundbreaking work. He pushed for us to have a genomics plan to bring together the rapidly advancing sciences of gene therapy and stem cell research.

In everything he did he had one eye on where the research is, and one eye on where it needed to be and what we could do to make sure it got there. Without his vision and leadership CIRM would not be where it is today, and the field of stem cell research might be very different.

But Alan’s impact was on more than just the organizational level. He was a friend and colleague to so many people, both here at the agency and in research institutions around California, always willing to offer support, advice and guidance to anyone who asked.

On a personal level he was a tremendous help to me when I joined CIRM. We had many long discussions about the work we do and about our goals and hopes for the future. We shall miss him but know that we are all the better for his being a part of CIRM. He leaves a terrific legacy and we wish him and his family all the best.

Jonathan Thomas

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