As reported by the Hartford Business Journal, June 26, 2006.

Stem Cell Money: A Divisive Quandary

By Jonathan O’Connell

Marc Lalande’s office at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington is adjacent to rooms full of laboratories perfectly suited for genetic research.

As Lalande is chair of both UConn’s genetics and developmental biology department and a five-person peer review committee that will oversee state stem cell work, the labs around the corner seem like the perfect locale for jumpstarting any embryonic stem cell research UConn scientists win the chance to perform.

Doing so, however, would likely violate federal guidelines and could cause UConn to lose research funding from its most critical source, the National Institutes for Health (NIH).

Instead, embryonic stem cell work will likely begin downstairs, on the second floor, and expand into a private building across the street that UConn will rent.

What’s the difference? Lalande’s floor was once renovated with federal funding. The second floor was not. And not a dollar of federal funding can go toward embryonic stem cell research outside federal guidelines – not in the building or a lab assistant’s salary; not for a petri dish or even a disposable plastic glove.

Fund Speedbumps

Stem cell money will make two stops before it reaches researchers. First is the Department of Public Health (DPH), where half of the $20 million for research through June 30, 2007 is already in an account. Once research is approved, DPH will send the money to Connecticut Innovations Inc., which is responsible for negotiating and managing contracts with researchers. But it’s the research institutions’ responsibility to make sure they get the accounting right, according to Catherine Kennelly, the chief administrative officer at DPH.

“It really is on them to make sure they can differentiate between funds that are eligible and not eligible,” Kennelly said.

UConn is used to ensuring funding goes directly into the work for which it is intended, but keeping NIH money — ubiquitous at the health center — completely separate from upcoming state stem cell work will require a new level of financial oversight. Of NIH money Lalande said, “it’s like white paint. You put a little bit of green in there and it sort of spreads everywhere.”

Tracking every one of those green drops will be Jeffrey Small, associate vice president at the health center. Thirty-six of the 71 scientists who have expressed interest in applying for the first round of funding have UConn ties and as those projects are approved, Small’s unit will investigate the financial “story” behind every piece of equipment and material scientists plan on using to determine if they were acquired with NIH money.

“When it gets a little tricky, and where we need to be more careful, is in a lab with a piece of equipment purchased with NIH money years ago,” said Small. For instance, any equipment purchased under an operational NIH grant would be ineligible for use. But if the grant has expired, it may very well allow UConn to then own the equipment, making it eligible.

Once all the records are reviewed comes a more daunting task: training the scientists named to do research to use only eligible equipment and materials, even when non-eligible equivalents are across the hall or simply in a different drawer. Equipment eligible for use will be stuck with blue or yellow labels; non-eligible versions will be stuck with red. Less permanent supplies like rubber gloves and droppers, called “consumerables” by fiscal administrators, will be stocked in separate cabinets according to their source, even if they are otherwise identical.

And anyone at UConn participating in non-eligible embryonic stem cell research will undergo training, either in the classroom or over the web, as to how to conform to UConn’s policies for ensuring funding integrity. Researchers at Yale University will have similar plans.