Calif. court okays stem cell funding

The state's Supreme Court rules agency can start distributing grants to scientists

By | May 17, 2007

After over two years of stalling out under legal tangles, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) may begin distributing grants for stem cell research, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday (May 16). In its ruling, the Court honored the decision of a lower state court that upheld the constitutionality of Proposition 71, the act that implemented CIRM in 2004. "Finally the day has come when we're free from the frivolous lawsuits that have been holding us back," Bernard Siegel, Executive Director of the Genetics Policy Institute, told The Scientist. According to CIRM's Web site, CIRM will begin distributing $48.5 million in funding for shared laboratories grants and $222 million in grants for research at California universities, hospitals, and research institutes. According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News, Dana Cody, the attorney for one of the plaintiffs, Life Legal Defense Foundation, said CIRM may face future legal actions. But another plaintiff, California Family Bioethics Council, said it will not sue CIRM again. In 2004, California voters approved $3 billion in spending for stem cell research through Proposition 71. "The voters' mandate will be fulfilled and the promise of stem cell research will be lifted to new heights with California's billions in funding," Robert Klein, chairman of the Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee (ICOC), which oversees CIRM, said in a statement released today. CIRM had already begun distributing grants this year after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger meted $150 million to CIRM from the state's general fund. "Patient advocates take their hats of to Governor Schwarzeneger," Siegel said. "As a result, while the lawsuit has held things back, it hasn't been a total loss of time." The lawsuits began when People's Advocate and National Tax Limitation Foundation sued Governor Schwarzenegger and the ICOC. According to court documents, People's Advocate complained that CIRM "delegates the disbursal of huge sums of public money to the unfettered discretion of an institution whose governing board and working groups are unaccountable to the public." In February, 2007 the appellate court upheld Proposition 71's constitutionality after additional complaints from California Family Bioethics Council and the Legal Life Defense Foundation, which claimed CIRM was clogged with conflicts of interest. Dale Carlson, a CIRM spokesperson, told The Scientist the litigation has not held up CIRM's objectives. "Two and a half years ago this institution didn't exist. Today it is the largest funding organization for stem cell research in world." The Legal Life Defense Foundation and People's Advocate did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Siegel said the court's decision marks a paradigm-shift in the way states participate in funding basic research. "California has gone through all the legal tests and leaped over all legal hurdles. It is really significant, it's a milestone." Kerry Grens Links within this article: A. Harding, "California stem cell plans stalled, but alive," The Scientist, February 8, 2006. California Institute of Regenerative Medicine G. Slack, "California stem cell program is legal: Judge," The Scientist, April 24, 2006. Genetics Policy Institute S. Johnson, "High court clears way for California stem-cell institute financing, San Jose Mercury News, May 16, 2007. Legal Life Defense Foundation A. McCook, "Calif. funds stem cell research-really," The Scientist, February 19, 2007. People's Advocate Court Decision, First Appellate District, Division Three, February 26, 2007 A. McCook, "Another stem cell court victory," The Scientist, February 27, 2007

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