As reported by The Capital Times, February 21, 2006.

UW Stem Cell Expert Leaving for Post at UConn

By Bill Novak

Wisconsin is losing one of its top stem cell researchers to Connecticut, but the loss could open the door for more opportunities for researchers here to supply stem cells to a greater number of universities and research labs.

Ren-He Xu, the first employee of the WiCell Institute six years ago and now the senior scientist at the institute, has been named director of the new human embryonic stem cell lab being developed at the University of Connecticut.

"I am very excited," Xu told The Capital Times today. "It is a new opportunity but also will be a challenge."

The WiCell Institute is a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and is home to the nation's first stem cell bank. It is a private lab founded by University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Professor James Thomson, who in 1998 became the first research scientist to isolate human embryonic stem cell lines.

UW spokesman Terry Devitt said Xu's departure shows how well respected the stem cell research scientists are at the UW.

"He is a great scientist and he does excellent work here, but this is an excellent opportunity for him," Devitt said.

Andy Cohn, spokesperson for WiCell, said Connecticut will offer Xu the chance to "run his own show" as well as open up another avenue for WiCell to supply stem cells to another university.

"We supply stem cells to over 200 different universities across the country," Cohn said. "We think stem cell research will become a program that five years from now every university in the world will want to have."

Xu said he hopes to get the stem cell lab in Connecticut started as soon as possible.

"It takes time for a lab to start, but there is very strong support for it from all levels," he said. "They will make every effort possible to get it going."

Thanks to Thomson's landmark human embryonic stem cell research, the UW has a proven track record of results and is becoming a breeding ground for scientists going off to start stem cell labs at other universities.

Right now, there are between 30 and 35 different groups at the UW working in one manner or another on stem cell research.

"The expertise from UW is starting to radiate out," Devitt said.

Cohn said while WiCell will miss Xu's expertise it won't miss a beat in ongoing research.

"We have over 80 scientists working on this campus in stem cell research," Cohn said.

Xu and his research team discovered early in 2005 how animal materials, predominantly mouse "feeder" cells, could be eliminated from human stem cell cultures and replaced with synthetic human molecules to sustain the cultures.

Thomson was unavailable for comment today.

Connecticut is the most recent state to provide funding for stem cell research, with the Connecticut Legislature approving a $100 million stem cell research fund in 2005.

Dr. Marc Lalande, chair of the University of Connecticut genetics department, said in an article in the university's Advance newspaper today that recruiting Xu was a coup.

"Dr. Xu's hands-on expertise with human embryonic stem cells catapults us into a very strong position in establishing a world-class cell culture facility in the state of Connecticut," Lalande said.

In addition to becoming the director of the university's stem cell lab, Xu will be a faculty member in the department of genetics and developmental biology at the university's health center in Farmington, Conn., with a joint appointment to the Center for Regenerative Biology at the main campus in Storrs, Conn.

Xu said he's sad he's leaving Wisconsin and his friend and mentor James Thomson.

"It was a long time mentoring by Jamie, plus all the support shown for WiCell," Xu said. "They were very kind and very supportive to my team."