The training grants were announced in September of 2005 but funding was not made available until last week. CIRM announced this morning that it has raised enough money to fund the first year of the program with future funding expected once ongoing litigation has been settled.
Funding for the grants came from six California philanthropic organizations, which purchased $14 million of Bond Anticipation Notes to fund the training grants awarded last year. The Keck School of Medicine-in combination with USC-affiliated Childrens Hospital Los Angeles- received the largest portion of the new funds, totaling $1.38 million.
The Keck School's grant was called "very thoughtful" by CIRM's Research Funding Working Group and was one of several grants announced last September by the Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee, or ICOC, the group charged with governing CIRM and the way in which it disperses the $3 billion in funding provided it by the passage of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative in November, 2004.
"This is an important step forward," said Robert N. Klein, chairman of the Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee. "Stem cell research may lead to cures and therapies for a host of chronic conditions. 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."
"The timing of these funds becoming available is so important to us here at USC, as our newly recruited stem cell program director arrives to begin building a comprehensive and interdisciplinary center for stem cell and regenerative medicine," said Brian E. Henderson, Dean of the Keck School of Medicine. "It is critical to have these funds to begin training myriad scientists so that, ultimately, more research can be done in this promising area of research. This was the intent of the people of California when they voted for passage of Proposition 71."
The CIRM funding follows a February announcement by donor Eli Broad of a gift of $25 million to the Keck School of Medicine of USC to help build the Broad Institute for Integrative Biology and Stem Cell Research.
The Keck School's Stem Cell Biology Training Grant will be used to train graduate students as well as post-doctoral and clinical fellows across 27 departments at USC, with trainees being recruited from existing Ph.D. programs at the Keck School and at USC's Andrus School of Gerontology and College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. They will come together to teach two new courses: an interdisciplinary course in the social, legal and ethical implications of stem cell work, and a joint course--with Childrens Hospital and the California Institute of Technology--in stem cell biology.
A key feature of the program will be newly developed courses in bioethics, and a unique tri-institutional stem-cell biology lecture course, taught in conjunction with USC-affiliated Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and Caltech, that will train students in cutting-edge gene-transfer technology applications in the clinic, medical applications, and current stem-cell research.
According to Robert Maxson, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and the principal investigator on this grant, the money will also be used to help fund "highly qualified individuals" to be designated as CIRM Scholars, and to "support seminars and retreats that will build a larger community for stem cell research by involving and facilitating collaboration among students and faculty."
Adds Maxson: "We have a terrific group of scientists at Keck and across the University who worked very hard to put this program together. I'm very gratified to be a part of it."
Among the other grantees announced were The Saban Research Institute at Childrens Hospital, which has been affiliated with the Keck School of Medicine for more than 70 years, and Caltech, with which the Keck School of Medicine runs a highly regarded joint M.D./Ph.D. program.
"The biomedical environment and strength of stem cell research at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and the Keck School of Medicine combine to provide a rich milieu for training the next generation of physicians and scientists who will use stem cells as the basis for research and therapy," said Donald B. Kohn, M.D., director of Childrens Hospital's Gene, Immune and Stem Cell Therapy Program and a professor of pediatrics and molecular microbiology and immunology at the Keck School.
"We at the Keck School of Medicine are gratified by our selection as one of the institutions receiving a CIRM stem cell training grant award," said Frank Markland, Ph.D., the Keck School's associate dean for scientific affairs. "The medical school has a number of investigators interested in stem cell research, and this training grant will enable us to pool our resources with Childrens Hospital and with Caltech to offer graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and clinical fellows an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the exciting new developments related to human embryonic stem cell research and the clinical potential of this research.
"The funding of this grant at the Keck School of Medicine of USC will definitely serve as a stimulus to our stem cell research and recruitment efforts, and will open the door to a whole new arena of research and clinical development in the Southern California area."
Entities who purchased the Bond Anticipation Notes included: the Beneficus Foundation; Blum Capital Partners; William K. Bowes Foundation; The Broad Foundation; Jacobs Family Trust and The Moores Foundation.