Obama's stem cell order boosts Novato's Buck Center

For a Marin County biomedical center pursuing cures for Parkinson?s, Alzheimer?s and other diseases, President Barack Obama?s abolition Monday of restraints on federal funding of stem cell research could work in tandem with his efforts to revive the national economy.

The Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato will apply for $20.5 million in federal economic stimulus funds to pay for half of a new laboratory building devoted primarily to stem cell research, said James Kovach, president and chief operating officer of the independent nonprofit organization.

The stimulus money would match a $20.5 million state grant awarded last year for the proposed 65,708-square-foot addition to Buck?s hillside campus on the west side of Highway 101.

?There?s no proposal in the country more shovel-ready than ours,? Kovach said, using the terminology for construction projects that can quickly translate into jobs. Building the $41 million lab would create 100 construction jobs for about 18 months, and the completed facility would employ 100 additional scientists, Kovach said.

The stimulus package includes $400 million for the National Institute of Health?s research facilities construction program, Kovach said. An NIH Web site said that $1 billion had been earmarked for facilities construction and renovation, but that branch of the agency could not be reached for comment Monday.

Kovach said there will be tough competition for stimulus funding, but that the Buck proposal matches NIH criteria for such projects.

Obama on Monday fulfilled his intention, reported late last week, to rescind former President George W. Bush?s 2001 order limiting stem cell research to 21 lines of stem cells existing at that time.

In opening up research using newer stem cells that many scientists say are more viable, Obama described his decision as an effort to end the Bush era ?war on science.?

?Promoting science isn?t just about providing resources,? Obama said in the East Room of the White House. ?It is about letting scientists ... do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion,? he said.

Mahendra Rao, a stem cell scientist who joined Buck in 2007 as a part-time faculty member, called the president?s action ?a big step forward.?

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