Rendell Administration Announces Health Research Grants From Tobacco Settlement Funds

Monday, March 17, 2008 General News
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HARRISBURG, Pa., March 17 Health Secretary Dr. Calvin Johnson today announced that five health research grants totaling nearly $18 million will be awarded from Pennsylvania's share of the national tobacco settlement for 2007-08.

These non-formula grants are competitive grants that focus on specific research priorities that are established and reviewed annually by the statewide Health Research Advisory Committee, chaired by Secretary Johnson. The priorities for 2007-08 are regenerative medicine and violence prevention. Each research grant is also required to address the reduction of health disparities among underserved segments of the population.

"This research involves collaborative 'Center of Excellence' efforts integrating research from several disciplines to address diseases and medical conditions, health disparities and health outcomes," said Secretary Johnson. "These grants reaffirm Governor Rendell's commitment to using the tobacco settlement dollars to improve public health and increase the research infrastructure and capacity in Pennsylvania."

Regenerative medicine is a rapidly growing area of medicine which includes the use of adult stem cells to develop innovative health treatments for improving or restoring the function of organs and tissues damaged by disease or injury. The need for research on regenerative medicine is underscored by the number of people living with devastating diseases, such as leukemia or sickle cell disease, for which there are no cures or few effective treatments. Adult stem cell research may also lead to more effective treatments for conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, two of the leading causes of death in Pennsylvania.

Research is also needed to identify interventions for preventing youth violence. The number of youth involved in violent behaviors is disconcertingly high. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24. Youth violence harms victims and their families, places huge burdens on public services and distresses communities. Violence prevention research seeks to identify the risk factors which increase the likelihood that a young person will engage in violent behaviors and test the approaches to lessen these risks.

The five grants that are being awarded under these two priorities during state fiscal year 2007-2008, which total $17.8 million, include:

-- The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in partnership with Cheyney University and the Sickle Cell Disease Association of the Philadelphia and Delaware Valley, will receive $2.1 million to conduct research in preparation for a clinical trial of a novel regenerative therapy for sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease is the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States and a disease that predominantly affects African Americans. Researchers will study how to enhance the effectiveness of transplantation of blood-forming adult stem cells in utero in combination with bone marrow transplantation in infants with sickle cell disease. If successful, this novel approach could result in a cure for sickle cell disease.

-- The University of Pennsylvania, collaborating with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Haverford College, Lincoln University and Thomas Jefferson, will receive $3.9 million to develop regenerative therapies for restoring the function of islet cells. Islet cells are the cells that produce insulin and are lacking in persons with diabetes. The University of Pennsylvania has a program underway to perform islet transplantation. This project seeks to improve the outcome of transplantation by investigating unique mechanisms for promoting the growth of transplanted islet cells to regenerate functional tissue and provide a sustained cure.

-- The Pennsylvania Stat

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