Scientists' Interest in State Grants Outstrips Funds Available

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 17, 2006

Applications for Maryland's new fund supporting stem cell research will probably far exceed the $15 million available this year, judging from preliminary interest, a state commission reported last week.

The Maryland Stem Cell Commission has received 89 letters of intent from researchers interested in applying for grants from the fund created by the General Assembly this year to support the research restricted on the federal level.

"I expected we were going to be inundated, and this indicates that we will be," said Linda Powers, a Bethesda venture capitalist who is chairwoman of the commission.

The commission is accepting proposals for grants of up to $1.5 million paid out over three years. Grants of up to $200,000 paid out over two years are also available to researchers new to the field of stem cell research. The deadline for applying for both is Jan. 8.

If grants were provided to all who have expressed interest, awards could exceed $67 million.

Advocates say stem cell research holds great promise for a range of debilitating conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, juvenile diabetes and spinal cord injuries. One of the most promising forms of the research is controversial, however, because it involves the destruction of a human embryo, which opponents consider tantamount to abortion.

Maryland became one of the first states in the nation this year to make state money available for the science in the wake of a 2001 executive order from President Bush that placed restrictions on federal funding of embryonic research.

The bill, which survived a filibuster attempt, was signed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) despite objections from many in his party. Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley (D) has pledged to boost state spending on stem cell research to $25 million next year.

Money is available to researchers at universities, medical centers, private companies and other institutions. Applications will be considered by a peer review committee. The earliest that grants are likely to be awarded is April, the commission said.

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