Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Expansion, funding could inject new life into stem cell research

By Jay Wilcox
September, 2009
Corridor Inc. news magazine

Hospitals and research facilities are a major part of the corridor's economy. Added research funding, particularly in stem cell research, could boost the local economy.

"At the Greater Baltimore Committee, we see bioscience and health care as one of the center points of economic growth, because of all the educational facilities we have," said Don Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee. "Having a highly-educated workforce usually attracts people in the bioscience field to want to work in our region."

Because of facilities like Johns Hopkins Medical Center and University of Maryland Medical System, the corridor could see a sizable chunk of federal funding for stem cell research.

Right now, at least in Maryland, a lot of the primary stem cell research is in the academic institutions," said Richard Zakour, director of the Tech Council of Maryland.

"The Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund supports 141 research projects," said Dan Gincel, director of MSCRF. "These 141 grants are supporting research directly involving over 350 researchers, physicians, lab technicians and other personnel and an estimated 700 researchers indirectly working in labs supported by research grants. The Post Doctoral Fellowship Grants support high-paying new jobs for PhDs and MDs. Expanding the program would certainly create additional direct and indirect jobs."

Maryland currently is home to more than 400 bioscience companies and 50 federal centers of research, and medicine is a big part of the economy. New facilities are on the way, as more big names enter the corridor.

RNL Biostar, a subsidiary of South Korea's RNL Bio Inc., is investing $6 million in the construction of a new stem cell research and manufacturing facility in Germantown. The company aims to occupy a total of 20,000 square feet in Montgomery County by 2014. The majority of its employees will be cell-manufacturing technicians,with an average annual salary of $50,000.

Gov. Martin O'Malley recently cut another $3 million from Maryland's 2009 stem cell research budget, the fourth such cut in the past 15 months. The research fund is now at $12.4 million dollars, about half of the $24 million it had in 2008.

"The governor faced some pretty difficult decisions in having to reduce a $14 million office budget," said Shaun Adamec, spokesman for the governor's office. "The federal government has really revamped their effort and priority of funding stem cell research, which allows the state to not be alone in the game."

Despite budget cuts, research remains strong. In May, the Maryland Stem Cell Research Commission evaluated 147 project applications, according to a release. The board of directors for TEDCO reviewed the commission's recommendations and approved 59 projects for a total of $18.9 million in funding.

In the research community, optimism abounds.

"Maryland cannot sit back and wait, and risk losing the momentum and investments in stern cell research and economic development made to date," Gincel said. 'When federal policies, guidelines and appropriations are solidified, Maryland's stem cell research community will be poised to successfully compete for federal funding, with years of data and research supporting their requests."

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