The Niche

Ontario scientists to get $100 million boost

Stem cell scientists in Ontario expect a boost from their province’s commitment to distribute an extra CAN$100 million for life science funding this year. Researchers in selected areas of life sciences need to state their intent to file by mid June, and submit final applications by August 31, with almost all the funds expected to be allocated by the end of the year.

In explaining the rationale for the program, Ontario’s Minister of research and Innovation John Wilkinson specifically named the U.S. stimulus package and President Obama’s move to fund more stem-cell research.

“We are saying to Washington, and to the world — we are willing to collaborate with you, but no

poaching of Ontario scientists allowed,” Wilkinson said, according to a statement released yesterday by the minister’s office.

Ontario researchers who attended and commented on the announcement included prominent stem cell scientists Mick Bhatia, John Dick, Gordon Keller, Andres Nagy, and Janet Rossant, according to materials provided to the press.

For each project selected only one-third of the funds can come from the provincial government, with a maximum award of CAN$3.5 million. The rest must come from the private sector and the institution. Such schemes have precedent. The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine required awardees to provide funds for facilities grants to research institutions. The Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine did so in their projects as well. (See Nature Reports story) Stem cells drafted for war on wounds .) In both cases, the percent of matching funds that could be obtained from outside sources was considered in making awards. In Ontario, the ratio is set.

The Ontario grants are aimed at academics, and can be awarded for research in proteomics and genomics as well as stem cells. For-profit companies are not eligible to apply; however, one of the five criteria is potential for commercialization that will benefit Ontario.

A staffer at Ontario’s Ministry of research and Innovation said that the timing of fund distribution would depend on the project, but could be in one year or up to five years. Also, if grants received by June are deemed of insufficient quality, another competition for funding may be launched.

Mick Bhatia, director of the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, sees broad scope for such projects with near-term practical applications, particularly the creation of disease-specific lines and further development of assays that use stem cells for drug screening. He also said that there is a strong tradition of philanthropic funding for research in Ontario, so that academics should be able to find funding partners.

Aaron Levine, who studies the impact of policy on research at Georgia Institute of Technology, said that the funds would likely help with retention, keeping Ontario researchers home who might otherwise get lured to the states. However, he did not think it would make a difference for recruiting new researchers to the province, as such researchers would be looking for longer-term commitments.

Details about how to apply to are here.

The announcement comes just weeks after a federal funding source, Genome Canada, said it would be pulling its support of the International Regulome Consortium, a basic-science project to map the regulatory circuitry of stem cells headed by Michael Rudnicki at the University of Ottawa in Ontario. Genome Canada, which receives funds from a variety of government and private sources and disburses them throughout Canada, said the regulome project had not met required standards during an interim review. (See brief Nature story)

Here are Nature Reports articles that examine how public policy can affect stem-cell research

International stem cell environments: a world of difference

US stem cell scientists consider relocating

Stem-cell research: More support brings more papers

A U.S. patchwork quilt of funding


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