Saturday, February 17, 2007

"New Action Heroes" Win Millions in ESC Research Grants

The word went out this weekend from China to Syracuse: California stands No. 1 in embryonic stem cell research in the United States and, and by at least one account, perhaps in the world.

The occasion, of course, was the approval of $45 million in research grants by the California stem cell agency.

The event generated enormous amounts of favorable publicity worldwide for CIRM and for the cause of ESC research. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger  stood before TV cameras and declared that ESC researchers are "the new action heroes."

His theme carried through on San Francisco television station KGO, which aired a more than two-minute-long report by David Louie with loads of sympathetic images of disabled persons and film of confidence-inspiring lab work. Smiles abounded, including some from Roman Reed, who is paralyzed as the result of an injury.

He told KGO viewers:
"We are on the road to cures. We are on the road to be able to solve the problems that plague mankind. Millions of people are suffering, and now we're on the road to cure them. This is wonderful."

Reed´s father, Don, stood at Schwarzenegger´s left as he vowed, on camera, continuing support for CIRM.

Reporter Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote:

"The panel awarded the highest score to a researcher at UCSD (University of California, San Diego), Anirvan Gosh, for his proposed work on coaxing human embryonic stem cells to morph into neurons in the brain, particularly those in the forebrain. It is in that area that Alzheimer's is believed to do damage.

"Gosh's scientific background and the cutting-edge science he proposed impressed the committee, said Zach Hall, president of the stem cell institute."

A number of newspapers wrote that the $45 million in grants exceeded federal spending annually on ESC research. But  Carl Hall of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the 72 grants covered a two-year period and were about equal to federal ESC spending for the same period. But Hall continued:

"Eighty million dollars in state grants are expected next month, more than enough to make California the world's No. 1 backer of biomedicine's most ethically contentious research."

Mary Engel of the Los Angeles Times reported:

"After more than 12 hours of deliberation Thursday night and Friday morning, the full board made selections from the proposals, which were numbered and had the names of institutions and people removed. The institute staff advised board members, many of whom work for universities or institutions with proposals, on when to recuse themselves because of a possible conflict of interest.

"The process drew some complaints from two government watchdog groups, which pointed out that Connecticut, which has a much smaller stem cell research effort, identified all the institutions and scientists it funded by name, including those rejected. The groups called on the board to publish the names of the California institutions that applied for grants but were denied.

"But even they praised the spirited discussions and lengthy deliberations that went into choosing the grantees

"`Many of us had expressed concern that the board would act as a rubber stamp and not delve into this in a serious way,´ said John Simpson of Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. `This is a very good process.´"

The California stem cell agency prepared a press release on awards, quoting stem cell Chairman Robert Klein as saying:
"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."

As for Syracuse, below is a link to the story there. More than one appeared in China, but here is a link to the Xinhua news agency story.

San Francisco Chronicle:
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