Friday, April 6, 2007

Stem cell funding in the balance

Panel to make awards; lawmakers split on ’08 funding

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The state’s new Stem Cell Commission has reached the end of its first-year cycle and is ready to distribute $15 million to researchers at its next meeting on April 25.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are wrangling over how much to spend on such research in fiscal 2008.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has proposed raising the funding to $25 million, which the House approved. But the Senate wants to keep the level at $15 million.

Under the legislation passed last year after three years of debate, the governor sets the amount of research money in his annual budget.

On Thursday, House and Senate negotiators were trying to work out a compromise.

Also, after the legislative session ends, the governor’s office will ‘‘move as quickly as possible” to appoint a new commission member to replace Jack C. Chow, who resigned earlier this year, said spokesman Rick Abbruzzese. He said ‘‘it is hoped” that O’Malley will make the appointment before the commission’s next meeting.

Renée Winsky, executive director of the Maryland Technology Corp., which administers the commission, said it has scheduled an alternate meeting date in May if all members can’t attend on April 25.

‘‘We think it is very important for all the members to participate,” Winsky said.

A working group from the commission formulated a process for approving the final grants, she said, and members have not yet seen a prioritized list.

A scientific peer review committee met last month to rank by scientific merit the 85 proposals, which were submitted to the commission by January. The reviewers were stem cell experts from California, New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Michigan, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Florida.

The commission is to ensure that the grant recipients represent a balance of research that addresses different types of stem cells, aimed at curing different diseases.

The 85 proposals represent a range of research on embryonic and adult stem cells, including umbilical cord blood stem cells and cancer stem cells. The projects are aimed at developing therapies for about 15 diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease and diseases of the heart, lungs, kidney and liver.