Stanford gets first round of state stem cell funds

The School of Medicine has received $1.2 million from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to train the next generation of stem cell researchers. The April 10 payment is the first of a three-year, $3.7 million grant that was awarded in September.

The grant will support 16 scholars—six graduate students, five postdoctoral fellows and five MD research fellows from departments across campus.

"We think our program offers a unique perspective," said Michael Longaker, MD, the Deane P. and Louise Mitchell Professor and the principal investigator on the grant. Longaker said each trainee will have a mentor and co-mentor in different fields (for instance, a mentor in developmental biology and a co-mentor in law), and PhD students will be immersed in a clinical program within their research area. "We want the non-MDs to understand the clinical needs within their research area."

This grant is one of 16 training grants funded by CIRM in its preliminary round of disbursements. Together, the grants provide $12.1 million this year to fund 169 future stem cell researchers. Of the funded grants, Stanford's was rated the highest. "(Stanford) offers perhaps one of the strongest environments in the world," the reviewers wrote on CIRM's Web page. "There are no obvious weaknesses."

CIRM was established in 2004 when state residents approved Proposition 71, enabling the state to sell bonds that would generate $3 billion over 10 years to fund stem cell research. However, the agency has been unable to sell the bonds because of litigation that is expected to conclude next spring.

To fund the current round of grants, CIRM sold bond-anticipation notes to six philanthropic entities: Beneficus Foundation, Blum Capital Partners LP, William K. Bowes Foundation, The Broad Foundation, Jacobs Family Trust and The Moores Foundation. These notes will be paid back when the general bonds are released.

In a statement, Robert N. Klein, chair of the CIRM governing board, calls the interim funding an important step forward. "Stem cell research may lead to cures and therapies for a host of chronic conditions," he said. "Without the support of private investors, our progress would slow. We cannot afford to lose more time. Thanks to the leadership of these foundations, we won't."

Longaker said Stanford will begin accepting applications for the program within the next week.