More than two years after voters approved a $3 billion program to fund stem cell research in California, the state has approved the first grants focused solely on human embryonic stem cell research.
The 29-member Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC), governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), has approved 72 grants totaling approximately $45 million over two years, to researchers at 20 academic and non-profit research centers throughout the state.
The grants were selected from among 231 applications totaling more than $138.3 million from 36 California institutions.
"Today is a day for great hope. These initial grants are important because we all know that we cannot afford to wait when it comes to advancing potentially life-saving science," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He continued, "This research brings hope for an eventual end to the suffering from chronic disease - such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer or multiple sclerosis - and promise for the people who love someone with one of these terrible illnesses."
ICOC Chairman Robert N. Klein said, “Today marks another milestone in one of the most important public endeavors ever undertaken by California. Patients and families around the globe will take heart that human embryonic stem cell research is finally beginning to receive the funding it needs and deserves.
We are grateful for the Governor’s leadership on this critical project, for the support of private philanthropists, and for the votes of seven million Californians who made this day possible by voting for Proposition 71.”
Scientific Excellence through Exploration and Development (SEED) Grants were intended to bring new ideas and new investigators into the field of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research, and offer an opportunity for investigators to carry out studies that may yield preliminary data or proof-of-principle results that could then be extended to full scale investigations.
“Our intent was to bring new ideas and new talent to human embryonic stem cell research – and these grants do exactly that,” said Zach W. Hall, Ph.D., CIRM’s President and Chief Scientific Officer.
“They are going to 30 scientists who are new to the field of stem cell research and 27 who have been independent investigators for six years or less. The quality of the science that is being proposed is very high, which bodes well for the future of stem cell research in California,” Hall continued.
The ICOC voted to name these grants in honor of Leon J. Thal, M.D. Dr. Thal was a professor and chair of the Department of Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego. He was one of the world’s leading experts on Alzheimer’s disease and a Governor’s appointee to the ICOC. He died earlier this month when the plane he was piloting crashed.
The ICOC originally planned to approve up to 30 grants totaling $24 million in August, 2006, following Governor Schwarzenegger’s authorization of a $150 million loan to CIRM from the state’s general fund. It is slated to approve up to another 25 for $80 million in March, for research conducted by established stem cell scientists.
“We were amazed by the large number of applications that we received. Because of their high quality it was important to increase the number of awards and the amount of money granted,” said Klein. “These projects will truly jump start stem cell research in California.”