The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine's Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee on Friday announced the approval of the first human embryonic stem cell research grants provided under Proposition 71, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/17). State voters in November 2004 approved Proposition 71 to provide $295 million annually for 10 years for human embryonic stem cell research, and two taxpayer groups and the California Family Bioethics Council in 2005 filed a lawsuit arguing that the measure violates the state constitution. California Superior Court Judge Bonnie Sabraw in April 2006 ruled that the plaintiffs failed to show the proposition "is clearly, positively and unmistakably unconstitutional," adding that CIRM and the oversight committee -- which are charged with implementing Proposition 71 -- "are operating in the same fashion as other state agencies." The plaintiffs appealed the ruling. While the suits are pending, CIRM is unable to sell state bonds required to fund the program, institute officials have said. The California Stem Cell Research and Cures Finance Committee in November 2006 unanimously approved a $181 million loan to CIRM, which includes $150 million from the state's general fund ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and $31 million from private donations (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 2/16). CIRM last year awarded $12.1 million in grants to train 168 college-age students about stem cell biology. The agency on Friday awarded 72 two-year grants totaling about $45 million to researchers at 20 not-for-profit research organizations and universities (Johnson, San Jose Mercury News, 2/17). The grants ranged from $251,000 to $808,000. Grant proposals were numbered and had the names of researchers and institutions removed (Engel, Los Angeles Times, 2/17). CIRM next month plans to award 25 grants totaling about $80 million, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports (Elias, AP/Contra Costa Times, 2/17).

KQED's "The California Report" on Friday reported on the grants. The segment includes a discussion with Sarah Varney, a KQED correspondent (Baron, "The California Report," KQED, 2/16). Audio of the segment is available online.

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