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Berk Appointed to State Stem Cell Board

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bradford Berk, M.D., Ph.D. and State Senator Malcolm Smith

University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) CEO Bradford C. Berk, M.D., Ph.D. has been tapped to serve on the Empire State Stem Cell Board, the organization that will oversee distribution of approximately $600 million in biomedical research funding.  Berk was appointed to the panel by Senator Malcolm Smith (St. Albans), the Democratic leader in the State Senate.

“I can think of no better choice than Brad Berk to serve on the Empire State Stem Cell Board," said Smith. "His long list of accomplishments and vast experience in the area of stem cell research make him uniquely qualified to help New York State break new ground in the treatment of disease and advance forward in the innovation economy.”

The Empire State Stem Cell Trust Fund was created earlier this year.  The fund, which was included as a provision in the New York State budget, establishes an 11-year, $600 million research program to support stem cell research.  The initiative will be funded in part by a pool of money created when health insurance companies convert to for profit status. 

The legislation creates two panels to oversee the new law.  One panel will be responsible for developing the funding and evaluation criteria for research grants and establishing standards of medical and scientific oversight.  The other will focus on developing ethical guidelines for the research.  Berk has been appointed to the funding committee.

New York is home to world class universities, hospitals, and biotechnology companies and is poised to become an international leader in the field of stem cell research,” said Berk. “I am deeply grateful for Senator Smith’s appointment and look forward to serving on the Empire State Stem Cell Board.  I strongly believe that the resources New York State has committed to stem cell science will reinforce our state’s leadership in medical research and ultimately create new jobs and companies and develop technologies that could potentially improve the lives of millions of Americans.”

Stem cells are essentially early-stage cells that are capable of generating all the different kinds of tissue found in the body.  As such, the scientific community believes that these cells hold great promise to develop new ways to understand, treat, prevent, and perhaps even cure a long list of diseases.

Currently scientists are prohibited from using federal funds for stem cell research for all but a shrinking number of cell lines approved by the National Institutes of Health.  As a result, several states have stepped forward and established funds to support stem cell research.  New York’s investment is the second largest, behind only California

The University of Rochester is home to several leading stem cell research programs. Approximately 40 URMC scientists are involved in stem cell research in some form or another and their labs are funding with more than $68 million in research grants and employ 263 people.  Many of these scientists are internationally known for their work with stem cells in neurological disorders, cancer and musculoskeletal diseases.  The University is also in the process of establishing a Stem Cell Institute.  

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