by Steven Ertelt
April 11, 2006
Sacramento, CA (LifeNews.com) — Seventeen months after California voters approved Proposition 71 to authorize $6 billion in taxpayer funding for embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, the committee set up to distribute the funds made its first grant awards on Monday.
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine awarded $12.1 million in grants to 16 research universities across the state. The grants will be used to train 169 students n the basics of stem cell research science and will also provide courses in bioethics.
The students will participate in pre- and post-doctoral and clinical programs.
The money will be distributed to eight campuses in the University of California system and the awards range from about $375,000 to $1.2 million apiece. Cal Tech, Stanford, USC and four nonprofit research institutes will also receive funding as well as the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.
Scripps Research Institute, the J. David Gladstone Institutes, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and the Burnham Institute received funds as well.
"We are now, in reality, a funding agency, at last," Zach Hall, president of the institute, said at a press conference on Monday. "This will bring new energy and ideas to stem cell research."
The stem cell research panel has been able to distribute any grants until this point because it has been tied up in court facing two lawsuits from pro-life groups and taxpayer advocates who say the committee has run afoul of state conflict of interest laws.
The suits also say the state is supposed to have oversight of any state money that is distributed.
Opponents of the committee are also concerned that representatives of leading universities and biotech firms sit on the panel’s board of directors. In fact, most of the award recipients in the first round of grants have representatives on the committee.
However, each member abstained from voting on awards to the affiliated member, according to an AP report.
The awards were only made possible when several nonprofit groups donated over $14 million to the stem cell agency to make its first round of grants.
The panel was supposed to distribute $350 million annually in grant funds, but hopes to reach $50 million in grants by the end of the year. The lack of grants has caused some universities, like UC Irvine and UCSF to scrap plans to build large stem cell research facilities.
Dr. Arnold Kriegstein, who heads the stem cell research program at UCSF, says he already has 200 applications for the 16 spots in the student program the $1.15 million grant it received will fund.
UC Santa Cruz received the smallest grant at $374,730 while UCLA received the largest at $1.23 million.