Stanford, UCSF top stem cell funding list 

The state’s stem cell institute announced on Friday its first round of grants for research focused solely on human embryonic stem cells, and Stanford University and UC San Francisco were at the top of the list for the most money and research projects approved.

Voters established the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine in 2004 with the passage of Proposition 71, which provided $3 billion in bond funding for stem cell research.

Although the funding is on hold while the CIRM defends itself against lawsuits challenging its constitutionality, the state recently provided the organization with a $150 million loan to begin funding research.

The first round of 72 grants, totaling approximately $45 million over two years, will go to researchers at 20 academic and nonprofit research groups throughout the state. The grants were selected from among 231 applications.

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein, speaking at a press conference held in Burlingame — where the stem cell institute’s Independent Citizens Oversight Committee was meeting — said the grant projects investigate a wide range of health concerns.

"They cover heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s research, a broad array of chronic disease and injury, including acute paralysis," Klein said. "Today, we approved in one session of the state’s Prop. 71 board, more grants — $45 million — than the [federal] National Institutes of Health approved for the whole United States for all of last year."

President Bush, who vetoed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, has said he opposes federal funding of embryonic stem cell research because it destroys human embryos, which are usually donated from fertility clinics.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who helped lead the grant announcement, called the scientific researchers "our newest action heroes."

"They’re opening up possibilities that a few years ago we could have only imagined," Schwarzenegger said. "We’re looking forward to watching what they can achieve."

Roman Reed, 31, along with others in wheelchairs, flanked Schwarzenegger.

"Being in this condition is a very hard thing, but what gets me through is hope," said Reed, who was paralyzed in a football game in 1994. "To one dayrealize the dream of walking next to my son."

Stanford University was at the top of the list for the funding, called the Scientific Excellence through Exploration and Development grants. These grants are intended to encourage cutting-edge investigations into the field of human embryonic stem cell research.

Stanford received 12 grants, for a total of more than $7.6 million. UCSF received the third-highest number of grants, getting approval for eight projects with a total of more than $4.2 million in funding. Burnham Institute for Medical Research, in La Jolla, also received funding for eight grants, with more than $5.9 million in support.

The second group of research awards, called the Comprehensive Research Grants, will support mature, ongoing studies on human embryonic stem cells by scientists with a record of accomplishment in the field, according to the CIRM. Up to 25 of these grants, totaling $80 million, will be awarded, with grant recipients scheduled to be chosen in March.

Governor pledges more cash for CIRM, if needed

If the $3 billion approved by voters for the state’s stem cell agency continues to be held up by court battles, the state would be willing to lend California’s stem cell agency more money, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pledged Friday.

Last year, Schwarzenegger authorized a $150 million state loan to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which allowed the agency to begin its work, supporting stem cell research.

On Wednesday, a state appellate court panel heard from opponents of the stem cell institute, who are appealing a decision by the Alameda County Superior Court last April that upheld the agency’s constitutionality.

The appeals court has 90 days to rule on the issue, but both sides have said they’re ready to take the case all the way to the state Supreme Court.

At a press conference to celebrate the first $45 million round of embryonic stem cell research grants, Schwarzenegger said he offered the first loan because "we know we can’t afford to wait … when it comes to life-enhancing and life-saving science."

Asked if he’d be willing to provide another loan to the agency if the court battles continued to drag out, the governor exclaimed, "When I say they have my backing all the way, I will be going all the way."

CIRM Chairman Robert Klein said he hadn’t discussed getting another loan from the state, but said the additional support would be invaluable.

"I thought it was phenomenal," Klein said of the pledge. "The governor made it absolutely clear how committed he is."

beslinger@examiner.com

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