The fact that there will be $3 billion available for stem cell research over the next decade has set off a scramble among institutions around Los Angeles to position themselves for funding grants.
UCLA is already considering setting up a stem cell research center, while institutions ranging from USC to the City of Hope are planning to recruit new faculty members who have an interest in the research.
In addition, top administrators at UCLA, USC, the City of Hope, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Caltech secured positions on the board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the body formed by Proposition 71 to dole out the research funding.
"We are going to be aggressive," said Dr. Leonard Rome, senior associate dean for research at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine.
Until now, most human stem cell research has been done on adult stem cells. But since voters passed Proposition 71 as a response to federal limits on funding embryonic stem cell research, scientists expect most of the state's money to go toward embryonic stem cells.
UCLA's plan for a stem cell institute is only in the discussion stage, but it gained currency when the university surveyed its faculty and found dozens either already involved in stem cell research or interested in pursuing it. This included both human embryonic and adult, along with mouse stem cell work.
Similarly, USC has formed an advisory committee to direct the school's funding effort. The proposition also prompted USC to move forward with its stalled biotech park.
The park has been held up for years over difficulties assembling the land, but now the university plans to build a building that could house stem cell researchers or a company doing stem cell work.
"When we started to organize this, we found a lot of people who were not involved who had a lot of interest in stem cell research," said Dr. Frank Markland, an associate dean for scientific affairs at the Keck School of Medicine.
All the institutions also report an interest in recruiting new researchers interested in stem cell work, but no one is talking publicly about lobbying for the funding especially since critics have noted that the Institute board includes representatives of institutions likely to receive funding.
The board has taken steps to blunt this criticism by establishing an objective process for reviewing grant proposals that will include outside researchers sitting on the committee that makes the decisions.
"It will be experts from outside the state of California," said board member Dr. Michael Friedman, president of the City of Hope.
Rome said UCLA did not push for a seat on the board to directly influence grant making, but to ensure that the board was composed of top medical and scientific minds that would ensure grant applications would be scientifically evaluated creating a playing field that is good for the school.
"I thought it was really important for the committee to get started with what I would call top values," he said.
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