State Rep. John Enns had praise Tuesday for members of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust board of directors for their vote to provide money for adult stem cell research.
A total of $5.5 million from the trust will be given for adult stem cell research.
The board voted Monday to make the contributions after hearing presentations about such research 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.
“After conducting a legislative study last year, it became apparent that the state’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund was one of the best sources to fund adult stem cell research,” said Enns, R-Enid. “I have worked with the board this year and was very pleased they are now willing to dedicate dollars to this very worthy research.”
Enns was author House Joint Resolution 1035, which would let the voters amend the Oklahoma Constitution to specify 10 percent of the interest earnings on the tobacco trust fund to be used for adult stem cell research.
With the resolution in conference committee in the Legislature and the tobacco trust funds action, Enns said passage of the bill is not necessary now. His resolution will remain in conference until the 2010 legislative session.
Dr. Stephen Prescott, president of 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 the cells can be reprogrammed for specific uses.
Adult stem cells are not taken from embryos.
“This new funding initiative will accelerate this re-search while speeding the delivery of new treatments to Oklahomans suffering from life-threatening diseases,” Prescott said.
Researchers hope adult stem cells someday will 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.
“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 Oklaho-ma 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.
“By focusing on this promising research, Oklahoma could attract new businesses, create new high-paying jobs and save lives,” Enns said. “While we should not allow tobacco funds to be diverted without careful consideration, I believe this research could result in significant medical breakthroughs that improve the lives of all Oklahomans.”