Arnold Schwarzenegger, Glenn Bohannon
Paul Sakuma  /  AP
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger greets Glenn Bohannon, who has a spinal cord injury, during a news conference Friday in Burlingame, Calif.
updated 2/16/2007 8:09:56 PM ET 2007-02-17T01:09:56

California’s stem cell agency on Friday doled out nearly $45 million in research grants to about 20 state universities and nonprofit research laboratories, far exceeding the federal government’s spending on the controversial work.

In issuing the first significant research grants in its two-year history, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine became the nation’s biggest financial backer of human embryonic stem cell research.

“Today, we are making history,” said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made a brief appearance at the agency’s oversight board meeting.

Stanford University researchers were the biggest winners when they landed 12 grants worth a combined $8 million, including the first publicly financed human embryo cloning project.

The Republican governor’s support of the research puts him at odds with the Bush administration, which has limited federal funding to about $25 million annually.

State loaned $150 million
California voters in 2004 passed Proposition 71 to create the institute and give it authority to borrow and spend $3 billion for the research.

Two lawsuits challenging the state agency’s constitutionality have prevented it from borrowing the funds from Wall Street bond markets. The first research grants came from a $150 million loan from the state and another $31 million in loans from philanthropic organizations.

Schwarzenegger authorized the state loan last year, and said he would approve more state loans if the agency runs out of money before the lawsuits are resolved.

Pushing research into patients
The research aims to use stem cells — created in the first days after conception and giving rise to all the organs and tissues — to replace diseased tissue.

But many social conservatives, including President Bush, oppose the work because embryos are destroyed in the process. The microscopic embryos are usually donated by fertility clinics.

The agency last year awarded $14 million in training grants for novice researchers, but the grants Friday were intended to fund more ambitious projects that aim to push the research out of the lab and into patients.

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Thirty scientists who are new to the field and 27 more with stem cell research experience all received grants.

“Our intent was to bring new ideas and new talent to human embryonic stem cell research,” said agency president and chief scientist Zach Hall.

Next month, another round of 25 grants worth about $80 million will go to established stem cell scientists.

Four other states have also skirted federal restrictions with stem cell research funding schemes of their own: Connecticut has a 10-year, $100 million initiative; Illinois spent $10 million last year; Maryland has approved a $15 million budget; and New Jersey has spent about $25 million in two years.

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