Despite court, state stem cell funds continue

Perhaps a third of the $200 million in grants that the federal government intended to award nationally in 2010 for embyronic stem cell research will be blocked at least temporarily by a U.S. District court ruling, but in California the funding will continue without interruption, according to the state’s stem cell agency.

On Monday, Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that a 1996 law couldn’t be overturned by President Obama’s 2009 executive order authorizing the funding. The decision sent shock waves through the stem cell research communities. The Justice Department said it will appeal the decision.

California’s voter-approved stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) said this week that funding would continue in California for the human embryonic stem cell, or hESC, research.

“CIRM will continue to fund research on all hESC lines recognized by the Bush administration as well as newer lines approved by the National Institutes of Health during the past eight months,” according to a written CIRM statement.

“With federal funding uncertain, CIRM will continue providing a stable source of funding for those researchers who have committed their labs to pursuing new therapies based on work with human embryonic stem cells. Through this ongoing funding, CIRM expects to be able to continue to leverage California’s investment through its Collaborative Funding Partners, grant-making agencies in seven countries and Maryland and New York.”

Alan Trounson, the president of CIRM, was sharply critical of the ruling.

“The decision is a deplorable brake on all stem cell research,” he said. “Many discoveries with other cell types, notably the so-called reprogrammed iPS cells, would not happen without ongoing research in human embryonic stem cells. This decision leaves CIRM as the most significant source of funding for human embryonic stem cells in the U.S.”
“It would be immoral to unnecessarily delay the critical medical research that is vital for human embryonic stem cell therapies to reach patients suffering from chronic disease and injury,” added Robert Klein, chairman of the CIRM governing board.

The agency also said it would continue to finance research into other types of stem cells, “particularly progenitor cells that can create many cell types and other pluripotent cells such as induced Pluripotent Stem cells (iPS cells). However, it is important to note that work in all these cells types requires insights gained through work with hESCs to proceed with maximum efficiency. hESC research informs the entire field.”

The CIRM was created by voters in 2004 as Proposition 71 to coordinate and finance stem cell research. Funding is provided through $3 billion in voter-approved bonds.
To date, the CIRM governing board has approved 364 research, training and facility grants totaling more than $1 billion, making CIRM the largest source of funding for human embryonic stem cell research in the world. Estimates suggest that these grants already awarded will generate tens of thousands of job-years of employment in the state.

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