Slow Going For State's Stem Cell Grants

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dr. Zach Hall uses words like “challenging” and “daunting” to describe the past year.   But the President of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine says it’s not been without some progress.  They’ve gotten a new agency off the ground,  established ethical standards and moved into the new headquarters in San Francisco.  What they haven’t done is award grant money.

"Scientists around the county and the public I think expected us to get started with a bang, and we have been prevented from doing so by the litigation which has held up our funding.”

There are three separate suits pending – two challenge the institute’s constitutional authority to spend state money – that prevents it from issuing bonds while the cases make their way through the courts.  A third lawsuit claims that stem cell research deprives embryos of their constitutional rights.  Hall says in the interim they’re trying to raise 50 million dollars from foundations and philanthropists in order to start awarding grants – some of which have already been approved.  They’re about halfway to that goal.   Hall says the delay has frustrated him – and affected the state’s ability to attract scientific talent.

“In particular two very prominent scientists who were interested in coming to Stanford decided to go to Singapore instead because they weren’t sure if the funding would be here or not.”The future of state-funded stem cell research rests largely in the hands of the courts – but Hall is confident the suits will only delay – not disassemble – the institute.   In the meantime, he says they’re mapping out a blueprint so they’ll be ready if and when the money’s available.