Planning begins to pursue grants from Proposition 71 stem cell research funds

Medical school’s initial effort will be to obtain funds to build research facilities

With $3 billion available for stem cell research in California over the next 10 years, Stanford researchers are organizing a campus-wide approach to take advantage of the funds. As part of this response, the school is forming the multidisciplinary Program in Regenerative Medicine, which made its debut on Monday at a daylong meeting for interested faculty and staff.

The program will be under the Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine. It will be one of two complementary branches of the institute, along with a proposed NIH-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center,

Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, said that Stanford’s small size and integrated campus make it ideal for fostering the cross-disciplinary interactions that will drive regenerative medicine. “We want to be the world leader in understanding how embryonic stem cells divide and differentiate,” he said.

The program initially consists of five committees: research, education, human stem cells, bioethics and facilities. Together, these groups will coordinate research programs, arrange educational seminars, organize facilities space and ensure that the research is carried out in an ethical manner.

As a field, regenerative medicine is much broader than just stem cell biology, encompassing developmental biology and research using adult cells to repair damaged tissues. However, the early goals of the program will revolve around accessing the $3 billion over 10 years now available through the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, established by Proposition 71.

Pizzo said that the program’s first efforts will be to secure a facilities grant to help house the Cancer/Stem Cell Biology Institute. Ten percent of the CIRM funds are slated for such facilities grants. “We will make an application that’s as interesting as we can possibly make it to get those funds,” he said.

The proposed building, designated Stanford Institute of Medicine 1 or SIM1, will be located in the parking lot behind the Center for Clinical Sciences Research. If funded, the grant money would be applied toward the two floors housing the Cancer/Stem Cell Biology Institute, with the remaining two floors reserved for the Neuroscience Institute at Stanford.

Any stem cell biologist can submit research grants to the CIRM, but priority will be given to projects that can’t be funded through the NIH. This includes research using human embryonic stem cell lines not federally approved and creating new stem cell lines, both of which will be needed to develop the types of cures that drove the passage of Prop. 71.

According to Roel Nusse, PhD, professor of developmental biology who chairs the research committee, the program won’t regulate who applies for CIRM grants. However, he and his committee members will help organize grant efforts and generate ideas for research proposals and collaborations that will make Stanford grant applications as strong as possible.

A major concern for many faculty members attending Monday’s meeting were technical details about how to carry out stem cell research without falling on the wrong side of federal guidelines. Federal grant money can only support research using the short list of approved human embryonic stem cell lines.

Pizzo expects the federal government to carefully monitor how California institutions separate federal and Prop. 71-funded research. Because of Stanford’s prominence in stem cell research, he said it’s likely that the university could be a target for an investigation.

In her overview of research regulations, Ann James, PhD, senior university counsel, said she is assembling research policies to help Stanford faculty allocate money properly. “Faculty need to comply in a way that can be monitored and documented,” she said, in order come up squeaky clean in an audit.

These guidelines will offer information about how to segregate federal and non-federal funded work, how to document the work and how shared facilities can be used for non-federally funded work.