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Johns Hopkins Medicine
Office of Corporate Communications
Media Contact: Joanna Downer
May 20, 2005
TWO JOHNS HOPKINS RESEARCHERS ON SELECTION COMMITTEE FOR APPLICANTS TO CALIFORNIA'S $3 BILLION STEM CELL FUND
Two Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers are among 15 nationally known scientists chosen to evaluate and select stem cell research projects to be funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), created when the state's voters passed Proposition 71 authorizing CIRM last fall.
Johns Hopkins researchers Andrew Feinberg, M.D., M.P.H., an expert in epigenetics, and Jeffrey Rothstein, M.D., Ph.D., an expert on Lou Gehrig's disease, will serve six-year terms on the evaluation committee, known officially as the Scientific and Medical Research Funding Working Group.
Prop. 71 established a $3 billion fund to support research with stem cells -- primitive cells that can become other types of cells -- at California institutes, universities and companies. One particular type of stem cell to be used in the research, known as an embryonic stem cell, is obtained from leftover embryos created for in vitro fertilization.
In August 2001, President George W. Bush restricted federal funding of research with these cells to only those already in existence when he made his announcement. Stem cells from other sources -- such as from fetal tissue or from fully developed organs such as the bone marrow, blood or fat -- aren't subject to that limitation.
Prop. 71 funds can be used to support research using any type of stem cell, but the law is largely seen as an effort to support research that can't be done with federal grants, by far the largest source of financial support for research in the United States.
Because the taxpayer-generated funds can be used only for projects conducted within or through collaborations with California institutions, scientists selected to evaluate proposals are all from other states.
Feinberg, King Fahd Professor of Medicine and director of the Center for Epigenetics in Common Human Disease, is an authority on heritable changes to DNA other than mutations in the DNA sequence itself. Many genes that are important in development, health and disease, especially cancer, are controlled by the epigenetic "marks" passed down from cell to cell. His studies have shown that problems with these marks may play key roles in the development and progression of cancer. His work has also determined that cultured embryonic stem cell lines have normal epigenetic marks, taking away one hurdle to their potential clinical application.
Rothstein, professor of neurology and director of the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins, has pioneered studies in the basic biology of and new treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Among his laboratory's successes are the basic biology of glutamate transporters and how their dysfunction contributes to ALS, development of animal models of familial ALS, caused by mutations in a gene called superoxide dismutase-1, and identification of the antibiotic ceftriaxone as a potential treatment for ALS and other neurological disorders. The Packard Center, which includes investigators from a number of different institutions, encourages sharing of experimental results among its researchers in an effort designed to speed identification of potential new treatments for a currently incurable disease.
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