As reported by The Hartford Courant, January 18, 2006.

Research Spending at Issue

Experts Look for Best Way to Allocate Stem Cell Dollars

By William Hathaway

Connecticut scientists Tuesday talked about how they would like to spend the $100 million earmarked by the state for stem cell research over the next 10 years.

However, the committee charged with allocating stem cell research money put off a decision on adopting guidelines that would tell researchers how to apply for it.

"This is an important issue and needs to be fully discussed," said Dr. J. Robert Galvin, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health and chairman of the committee.

It was clear at an informational session that followed the committee meeting that scientists and university officials have no shortage of ideas about how the state money should be spent.

Dr. David Rowe, a professor of genetics and developmental biology at the University of Connecticut Health Center, said UConn should use the state money to train the next generation of stem cell scientists, rather than to fund the work of established researchers.

A proposal at UConn to limit grant applications for the university's researchers to $100,000 apiece has created friction because it would hamstring more ambitious scientific plans, such as those of Xiangzhong "Jerry" Yang, director of the Center for Regenerative Biology at Storrs, who wants to become the first scientist to create human embryonic cells through cloning.

Differences of opinion on funding priorities also were evident among Yale representatives present at Tuesday's meeting.

Dr. Robert Alpern, dean of the Yale School of Medicine, said the university initially wants to use state money to fund start-up costs of a new stem cell program - such as purchasing laboratory equipment and recruiting top scientific talent.

While conceding the need to pay for start-up costs, Michael Snyder, a stem cell biologist at Yale, said, "I'd like the money to go help the work of the actual scientists."

Scientists who work with human cells, including Snyder and Laura Grabel at Wesleyan University, told the committee that they would like most of the state money to fund work with human embryonic cells, which cannot be funded with federal grants because of restrictions imposed by President Bush.

Snyder said the human stem cell lines that are federally approved - those created before August 2001 - are difficult to grow, are contaminated with animal products and could not be used for medical therapies.

"They are kind of like a worn-out bicycle," Snyder said.

Diane Krause, acting director of Yale University's nascent stem cell program, who works with mouse embryonic cells, said that work with animal cells "is incredibly relevant" to eventual human applications of stem cell research.

Krause put the minor disagreements over funding priorities in perspective, saying that the state's passage of the stem cell research bill already has fostered encouraging discussions about collaborations involving scientists from different institutions.

For instance, Krause said Yale might acquire human stem cells created at UConn for use by its scientists.

However, it remained unclear when the guidelines to apply for state funding will be finalized. The stem cell advisory committee had hoped to have adopted them by Feb.1, but Galvin said that now is unlikely.