Boost to Stem Cell Research

A group of scientists in Houston are starting research on federally approved embryonic stem cell lines. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the group is one of only two in the nation to win funding and support form the National Institutes of Health for stem cell projects.

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Nine Texas scientists are now the overseers of an $8.7 million grant. The NIH funded the grant for embryonic stem cell research. Dr. Margaret Goodell is a professor of pediatrics and molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. She's also the principal investigator for the group. She says one of the major questions is how these stem cells work.

"What makes a stem cell a stem cell? Why don't these stem cells immediately turn into differentiated cells i.e. heart cells or skin cells or blood vessel type cells? And that's very important to understand so that we can generate more stem cells and that will help us use them in the clinic in the long run. So the NIH about two years ago put out a request for applications and they advertised that they were going to fund two of these large projects throughout the country."

Six scientists at Baylor College of Medicine, along with two from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and one from UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas spent a year developing their application. They beat out about a dozen other applicants. Goodell says their edge was the collaborative aspect of their proposal. They'll use the grant money for a number of research projects. They also plan to pass on grant money to other researchers in the field.

"We will continue to meet regularly and talk to each other about our work to try to move the work forward as quickly as we can. At the same time we'll be training other investigators and we will be funding new investigators. So these small grants that we hope to award will be offered to investigators at Baylor and also at M.D. Anderson. And we're hoping to really bring more people into the field through that mechanism."

The first three seed grants have already been awarded and Goodell says they plan to award three more Texas-based grants every year for the next four years. Goodell calls this the beginning of a marathon towards getting the products of research into the clinic.

"We are really behind states like California and Massachusets who have already had huge interest in these kinds of stem cells through state-funded initiatives, interest from other universities or philanthropists. So we're behind and yet we still have a chance to be a major player. And we're hoping the introduction -- the infusion of this money into the Texas Medical Center and this area is really going to make this a cornerstone of stem cell research in this region."

All stem cell lines used for the project will be approved by the National Institutes of Health. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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