- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — A state stem-cell commission has awarded its first grants to Maryland researchers for areas ranging from facial reconstruction to spinal cord repair.

Twenty-four researchers, more than half affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, were awarded grants Thursday by the Maryland Stem Cell Research Commission. The 24 were chosen from among 86 applicants seeking a total of $81 million.

“By funding basic and translational research with high scientific merit, it is our goal to help support cutting-edge science in the state, and bring new treatments to patients,” the commission’s chairwoman, Linda Powers, said. “The commission is very much looking forward to receiving an even broader pool of high-quality applications in the next cycle.”

Maryland is among a number of states that have approved funding for stem-cell research, including embryonic stem cells, in response to federal restrictions on the research.

Supporters say stem cells hold the promise of treating or curing a number of diseases because the cells — created in the first days after conception — form all organs and tissues in the body. Opponents note embryos, primarily unused embryos from fertility clinics, must be destroyed to obtain the embryonic stem cells.

Federal research has been sharply restricted by President Bush, who limited it to embryonic stem-cell lines created before his Aug. 9, 2001, order on the research.

Under the Maryland legislation, all of the work must be done in Maryland by Maryland-based institutions. The $14.5 million state fund was established last year by the legislature to advance stem-cell research and to foster Maryland’s biotechnology and life-sciences industry. An additional $23 million was appropriated during this year’s legislative session to fund awards in 2008.

In February, California’s stem-cell agency handed out nearly $45 million in research grants to about 20 state universities and nonprofit research laboratories, far exceeding the federal government’s spending on the controversial work. The Bush administration has limited federal funding to about $25 million annually.

California voters in 2004 passed Proposition 71 to create the institute and give it authority to borrow and spend $3 billion for the research. Connecticut has a 10-year, $100 million initiative; Illinois spent $10 million last year; and New Jersey has spent about $25 million in two years.

Of the Maryland grants, 15 went to Hopkins-affiliated researchers, eight to University of Maryland-affiliated researchers, and one to a researcher from a private company.

Seven of the proposals, eligible for up to $500,000 a year for three years, involve research that already has some history in the laboratory.

For example, Dr. Angelo H. All, of Hopkins’ Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Institute, was awarded a grant to study the use of embryonic stem cells in treating spinal cord injuries in a rat model.

Seventeen proposals received grants worth up to $100,000 a year for two years. Those grants went to investigators new to the field or to new ideas in the field, including a grant to Dr. John Fisher, at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, for work on the use of stem cells for regenerating human facial bone.

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