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Stemming the attacks -- CIRM makes more progress overcoming legal challenges
April 2007
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author

SAN FRANCISCO—The First District Court of Appeal for the State of California has denied two petitions for rehearing in ongoing litigation that is challenging the constitutionality of the state's stem cell program and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency created to manage the project. The Appellate Court ruled unanimously that the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act (Proposition 71) "suffers from no constitutional or other legal infirmity."
What that means in practical terms is that while the initiative isn't out of the woods yet and still faces challenges from those who are opposed to stem cell research, several trees have been cleared from the path with this ruling.
"One by one, we are clearing the legal hurdles that are delaying the issuance of bonds to fund stem cell research," says Robert N. Klein, chairman of the CIRM governing board.  "We are absolutely confident in the strength of our legal position. Our opponents have not prevented us from pursuing the will of 7 million California voters.  We are, however, anxious to access the bond market and fully fund the essential research that holds such promise for patients and families across the nation and throughout the world."
This past summer, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger authorized a $150 million loan from the state's general fund to the CIRM, and private philanthropists provided an additional $45 million in loans. That funding led to the approval of 72 grants totaling nearly $45 million for embryonic stem cell research at 20 California institutions in February. Just a month after approving that, CIRM authorized another $75.7 million in additional funds for established scientists at 12 non-profit and academic institutions—reportedly making the CIRM the world's leading funding organization of human embryonic stem cell research. The grants were selected from 70 applications from researchers at 23 institutions, who sought more than $175 million in CIRM funding.
"We are off to an extraordinary start towards fulfilling the mandate of 7 million California voters, and the hopes of patients and families worldwide," says Robert N. Klein, chairman of the 29-member Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, the governing board of the CIRM.
One of the beneficiaries of the latest round of grant funding in mid-March was the Stanford University School of Medicine, where researchers were awarded six grants worth more than $15 million. To date, the university has received 19 grants and nearly $26 million, which is more CIRM funding than any other single institution.
Dr. Irving Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, applauds efforts by CIRM and the governor to find sources of funding for stem cell research even while the stem cell initiative had been hung up in legal wrangling.
"This has allowed the field to move forward in California in a way that hasn't been possible in the rest of the country," he says. "Now we need to move the science of stem cells to advancing medicine and medical science for the eventual benefit of patients."
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