Wednesday, August 13, 2008

$59 Million Bonanza For California Stem Cell Researchers

Twenty-three California scientists hit it big today when the California stem cell agency awarded them grants that totaled as much as $3.2 million each.

In all, directors of the agency gave away $59 million in its second round of Faculty Awards, which are designed to support "young" researchers and develop more talent in the area of human embryonic stem cell research,.

The grants will support the recipients for as long as five years. They come at a time when competition for grants at the federal level is increasingly competitive. In a news release, CIRM Chairman Robert Klein noted that the average age of a researcher receiving his first grant from the National Institutes of Health is 43. Presumably, today's CIRM recipients are younger, but the agency did not specify their average age in its news release, which contains the names of the recipients and their institutions.

Grant reviewers decided 20 grants were unequivocally worth funding. Directors added three more from the second tier of applications, which reviewers say are worth approving if funds are available. Nine more grants remain in that category and will be considered at next month's directors meeting. A final vote will also be held then on the 22 applications not recommended for funding by reviewers. Fifty-four applications were received.

Today's grants come on top of a similar round approved last December. CIRM gave away $54 million then to 22 scientists. However, that round was tainted by conflict of interest violations by some CIRM directors, that caused the agency to reject 10 applications. Directors then decided to go ahead with another round of Faculty Award grants.

Initially CIRM budgeted $41 million for 14 recipients in the latest round of Faculty Awards. CIRM did not explain the rationale for increasing the program in its news release today.

(Editor's note: This item originally contained a sentence noting that CIRM's original press release said there were 55 applications although internally the numbers totalled 54. We queried CIRM about the matter. CIRM said that 55 was a mistake and that only 54 applications were received.)

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