Think local: TSET grants to scientists help bring national dollars
By Sarah Terry-Cobo
Copyright © 2016 The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma State University biomedical researcher Lin Liu is putting tobacco settlement money to work examining possible treatments for cigarette-related illnesses. He is one of eight scientists who recently received a total of $1.26 million from the state’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust to advance adult stem cell knowledge.
Federal funding for the basic science he does can be difficult to obtain, because the National Institutes of Health is subject to congressional appropriations. He has about a 30-percent chance NIH will choose his grant application. Oklahoma’s TSET established a way to provide research grants to local scientists, which can provide stability a researcher like Liu needs, said Paul Kincade, research vice president at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
The endowment trust’s board created the Oklahoma Center for Adult Stem Cell Research in 2010. TSET provides about $2 million each year to the coalition. In turn, the center’s independent scientific review board examines grant applications from researchers at OSU, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
TSET receives a payment each year from the tobacco industry’s master settlement agreement with states. Oklahoma’s endowment trust receives 75 percent and the Legislature gets 25 percent, said spokeswoman Julie Bisbee. TSET’s operating budget is based on earnings from the endowment, so it isn’t subject to state appropriations.
“Voters were wise when they set it up this way,” Bisbee said. “This is one of the benefits of an endowment; it provides relatively stable funding for research.”
Kincade, who is also the stem cell research coalition’s founding scientist, said the TSET grants help make Oklahoma attractive to researchers. Local funding can boost a researcher’s chance to get national grants, because it shows the work has potential, he said. For every dollar the stem cell center has granted, Sooner State scientists have been able to get an average of $3 in national funding.
Liu and three OSU researchers received $257,600 for stem cell projects, which then led to a $1.4 million NIH grant in 2013.
Oklahoma Center for Adult Stem Cell Research support helped Liu establish OSU’s interdisciplinary regenerative medicine program, bringing together scientists from across the campus. It’s critical that researchers from other disciplines examine the potential for adult stems cells in medical research, because collaboration helps generate new ideas, Liu said.
The stem cell research center’s funding purchased expensive microscopes and other equipment that all scientists who are a part of the collaboration can use. Liu bought a machine that simulates smoking, which he wouldn’t have been able to afford without the grant, he said.
He will use the $168,000 he received July 1 to examine the potential to use adult stem cells to treat chronic pulmonary respiratory disease, a smoking-related illness. His lab is using a basic scientific discovery to turn a skin cell into a stem cell, which can then transform into a lung cell. He is examining whether lung stem cells could be used to repair or regenerate a COPD-damaged cell.
“Without this funding, we wouldn’t be able to do any adult stem cell research,” Liu said.
Kincade said the consortium is important in encouraging more scientists to study adult stem cells, the fastest-growing field of medical research. When the Oklahoma Center for Adult Stem Cell Research was created six years ago, Kincade was one of two in that field in Oklahoma. Now there are about 40, he said.
“We want Oklahoma to be attractive to scientists who do this work and to those who are here, to help them realize adult stem cells could apply to their work,” Kincade said.
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