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New York State Awards First Stem Cell Grants
$14.5 Million Released

New York neuroscientists once headed to California, where voters approved a $3 billion bond to support stem cell research in 2004. Now, the New Yorkers may have good reason to stay on the East Coast: On Jan. 7, New York State granted $14.5 million in grants to support adult tissue and embryonic stem cell research. These one-year development grants are the first allocations from the $600 million state fund to support stem cell research over the next 11 years; a second round of grants is expected later this year. NY Gov. Elliott Spitzer announced the awards eight months after a stem cell research initiative was established in the state's 2007–2008 budget.

Stem cell research, with its potential to prevent and treat neurological diseases, will be reinvigorated in New York as the grants communicate that the state considers stem cell research a priority, experts told Neurology Today.

President Bush's vetoes of legislation for federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on two previous occasions prompted New York to initiate its own projects and sources of funding. New York follows the lead of California, Connecticut, and New Jersey, all of which have allocated money for stem cell research.

Among 25 grantee institutions are Columbia University, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, Montefiore Medical Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York Medical College, Cornell University, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York University, University of Rochester School of Medicine, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Mark Noble, PhD, professor of genetics, neurobiology, and anatomy and director of the University of Rochester Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Institute in Rochester, whose institution received a $1 million grant, said this first round of funding allows each institution to focus on its own needs in a different way.

“At the University of Rochester, we are providing supplementary funds to 17 different research programs in neurology, orthopedics, hematology, cancer stem cells, and new approaches to stem cell generation,” he said. “We also want to jumpstart a high throughput screening laboratory for discovery of drugs that enhance stem- and progenitor-cell function.” Dr. Noble's multi-laboratory research program includes work on cancer stem cells and tissue repair by cell transplantation.

Columbia University Medical Center, another $1 million grant recipient, hopes to focus on improving its infrastructure and to strengthen its large and diverse group of stem cell researchers. Funds will be used to purchase three pieces of cutting-edge equipment, according to Hynek Wichterle, PhD, assistant professor of pathology at Columbia.

Both experts agreed that the new grants will confer multiple benefits: construction of high-tech facilities, aiding in the recruitment and retention of researchers, and facilitating new interdisciplinary collaboration. The funding will also support innovative, promising research that will keep New York researchers on the competing edge, and research efforts that are not currently supported by the NIH (because of either governmental restrictions or insufficient NIH funds to support many applications).

Neurologists should consider the numerous ways in which stem cell biology advancements are altering the way we think about neurological problems, Dr. Noble remarked. “We are moving rapidly toward effective treatment of disorders for which cures were, not long ago, not even imaginable.”