As reported by The Hartford Courant, July 19, 2006.

Race Is on for Stem Cell Dollars

Scientists Vie for State Funding for Research Opposed By Bush

By William Hathaway

As President Bush prepares to veto a bill the Senate passed Tuesday that would expand federal support of human embryonic stem cell research, dozens of Connecticut scientists - including several from Bush's alma mater Yale University - have asked the state for $65 million, much of it for research the president opposes.

On Tuesday, the state committee charged with dispersing $20 million this year to promote stem cell research in Connecticut was told it had received more than 70 grant applications, including one that would make the University of Connecticut one of the top cloning centers.

The response to Connecticut's stem cell initiative shows there is a pent-up demand for stem cell research dollars that isn't being met at the federal level, said Dr. Myron Genel, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine. Genel is also a member of the state's stem cell research advisory committee, which is charged with disbursing $100 million in stem cell research funds over 10 years.

"This reflects the level of interest in this area of research and I suspect the interest is mirrored in other areas of the country," Genel said.

For instance, Xiangzhong "Jerry" Yang, director of the UConn Center for Regenerative Biology at Storrs, asked for $5 million to create human embryonic stem cells by somatic cell nuclear transfer, or cloning, and to support several other related research projects by scientists at both UConn and Yale. If the state approves funding for Yang's proposal and the work is endorsed by a UConn ethics committee, Yang would join an international competition of scientists who want to be the first to use cloning to create human embryonic cells genetically identical to those of DNA donors.

Harvard University and the University of California, San Francisco, are two other U.S. institutions that have announced efforts to create "patient-specific" stem cells that scientists hope will help them better understand diseases such as type 1 diabetes and neurological disorders such as Parkinson's. In theory, stem cells derived through cloning can provide exact genetic matches for stem cell transplants that could regenerate a wide variety of damaged organs.

However, therapeutic cloning and research projects that involve the destruction of human embryos are vehemently opposed by opponents of abortion. President Bush in August 2001 banned the use of federal funds for research that uses human embryonic cells created after that date.

Scientists have argued since then that they need newer cell lines to fully advance the potential of human embryonic cells, which can become any cell in the body and are therefore of immense scientific and medical interest. In response to federal restrictions, Connecticut in 2004 became the third state, along with California and New Jersey, to authorize public financing of human stem cell research.

Titles of the grant applications revealed Tuesday reflect the broad array of stem cell research contemplated by state scientists.

For instance, under Yang's proposal, UConn neural biologist Dr. Joanne Conover would study how to use stem cells created by cloning to repair damaged dopamine-producing brain cells that cause Parkinson's disease. Other scientists, including molecular biologist Dr. Sherman Weissman of Yale, would study how cloning manages to reprogram old cells to become youthful again. Yang also said that two nationally known scientists have agreed to move to UConn if the state agrees to fund their research proposals using human embryonic cells.

Several scientists at Yale University, which has several national experts on less controversial adult stem cell research, have applied for money to study human embryonic stem cells.

"There is a lot of momentum building at Yale," said Dr. Haifin Lin, incoming director of Yale's stem cell program.

Scientists at the University of Connecticut Health Center have also submitted several large-scale collaborative research efforts.

Yale and UConn, in collaboration with Wesleyan University, have submitted requests for $5 million to create new stem cell laboratories. The new facilities are needed because of the presidential prohibition against the use of facilities and equipment purchased with federal funds while studying new human embryonic cell lines.

The committee received 34 applications for "seed" grants, for younger less established researchers and 26 from senior scientists.

The proposals now go to five internationally known scientists who will rank them for scientific and ethical merit. In October, the committee hopes to select the scientists who will receive the grants.