A Medical Device Daily

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; San Francisco), said it has approved 72 grants totaling about $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.

ICOC Chairman Robert Klein said, "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 are intended to bring new ideas and new investigators into the field of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research and to do studies yielding preliminary data or proof-of-principle results.

"Our intent was to bring new ideas and new talent to human embryonic stem cell research — and these grants do exactly that," said Zach Hall, PhD, 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." He said the quality of the science "bodes well for the future of stem cell research in California."

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.

The grants will fund a broad range of projects, including:

  • An attempt to direct hESCs to generate specific types of forebrain neurons and see if they can functionally integrate into cortical circuits (UC San Diego);
  • Examination of the role of mitochondria in hESC differentiation (UCLA);
  • A study of the role of a specific gene family in "guarding the genome" of hESCs, drawing upon previous research with HIV and other retroviruses (Gladstone Institutes);
  • An attempt to identify small molecules that target a specific signaling pathway to support self-renewal or direct differentiation of hESCs, using a chemical genetic approach (UC Riverside);
  • Generation of a library of hESC lines that model a number of human genetic diseases (Burnham Institute);
  • Development of cutting-edge imaging techniques to view how heart cells derived from hESCs repair and restore myocardial function (Stanford).