PC funding cut threatens stem cell research, institute warns


The Ottawa cardiologist in charge of an institute that funds stem cell research says future projects could be in jeopardy after the province decided not to renew its funding for 2020.


The Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine (OIRM) learned it would be losing its financial support as part of the Progressive Conservatives’ “line-by-line review” of the province’s finances, said Dr. Duncan Stewart, the institute’s president and scientific director.

I think it’s pretty clear that the OIRM, our institute, will not continue in its present form.

– Dr. Duncan Stewart, OIRM president

“The decision was made purely on that basis,” Stewart told CBC Radio’s All In A Day on Wednesday.

“It’s not being made on the basis of any consideration of how successful we’ve been. It’s purely a process of trying to find ways of saving money.”

The OIRM helps “facilitate and catalyze” the movement of stem cell research from the realm of pure science to clinical trials, Stewart said.

On Wednesday, the institute awarded grants to 16 regenerative medicine research projects in Ontario, including a number underway at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

Stewart told All In A Day that with their funding cut for 2020, such grants are unlikely next year.

Starting next year, Ontario will no longer be funding the institute that helps stem cell researchers move their work from the lab to the real world. We find out what’s at stake from the Ottawa doctor who heads up the organization. 7:44

‘Try to make the case’

One example of a project that could die if OIRM loses its funding, Stewart said, involves looking at whether stem cells can reduce inflammation in people suffering from septic shock — a “very serious condition” with a high mortality rate.

Research into stem cell therapy that could accelerate the growth of lungs in premature babies may also be at risk, he added.

“Certainly, we’re going to try to make the case [that we’re worth funding],” Stewart said.

“I think a decision’s already been made, so I think it’s pretty clear that the OIRM, our institute, will not continue in its present form.”

Stewart said the institute is already exploring alternative funding models.