OKLAHOMA CITY -- A total of $5.5 million from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust will be given for adult stem cell research.
The trust board voted Monday to make the contributions after hearing presentations about such research that is ongoing in Oklahoma. Under the plan, the board will give $500,000 for a yearlong planning phase to determine how the money should be distributed, then award $1 million in grants each year for five years.
Dr. Stephen Prescott, the president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, said adult stem cells have the potential to treat ailments including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. He said OMRF scientists are researching how to "back up" progression of adult cells, so that the cells can be reprogrammed for specific uses.
Adult stem cells are not taken from embryos.
"This new funding initiative will accelerate this research while speeding the delivery of new treatments to Oklahomans suffering from life-threatening diseases," Prescott said.
Researchers hope adult stem cells will someday be used to regenerate organs from only a few cells.
Dr. Courtney Houchen, a researcher at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, said some scientists also are trying to look at ways to destroy some stem cells that are involved in the spread of cancer. By doing so, Houchen said, perhaps tumor formation can be stopped.
"It's an emerging opportunity in Oklahoma," said the trust board's chairman, Casey Killblane.
The trust is funded by money from the 1998 tobacco settlement agreement, in which big tobacco companies gave money to states, which were to use the funds to cover government costs of providing health care to people who have become sick because of tobacco use.
The $647 million Oklahoma has received so far has been put in the trust and uses only the earnings the trust generates. Oklahoma has placed the funds under constitutional protection and can only use them for health programs.