As reported by the New Britain Herald, December 15, 2009.

Stem Cell Face Off

By Scott Whipple

Carl Zuckerberg of Westport is the father of an 8-year-old son, Harrison. Zuckerberg says at night when he tucks him in bed and after they say their prayers, the boy asks, “Hey, Dad, what’s the latest?” Harrison has Type 1 diabetes. He wants to know if the doctors are making progress.

“Lately, I’ve had a tremendous amount to tell him,” Zuckerberg said. “All because of this terrific program Connecticut rolled out. Then when I heard this news it was like a punch in the gut.”

The news he was referring to was Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s proposal to cut state funding for stem cell research.

U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, held a telephone press conference Tuesday to demand that the Connecticut state legislature stop the governor’s proposal to cut state funding for what he calls “lifesaving, job-creating” stem cell research.

Murphy was joined on the call by University of Connecticut researchers, a Yale University researcher, and the CEO of CURE, an organization which advocates for pharmaceutical and biotech industries in the state.

In 2005, when Murphy served as co-chair of the state legislature’s public health committee, he authored the state law that provides $100 million over 10 years for stem cell research in the state.

He stressed that while the federal government was cutting off funding for stem cell research, Connecticut was ahead of the curve and investing its own money to make the state a leader in the nation in research and development.

Now that the federal government has lifted the ban on stem cell research, Murphy believes this is the wrong time to stop investing at the state level.

Last week, he announced $150,000 in federal funds for UConn Technology Incubation Center in Farmington.

The funds are expected to build on its expertise in stem cell research in order to generate start-up companies that will speed the discovery of new treatments.

Haifan Lin, director of Yale University Stem Cell Center, said his center has received more than $17 million in state and federal funds and, as a result, 128 full- and part-time jobs have been created. Combined, Yale and UConn have written close to 90 grant applications for the next round of state funding.

Marc Lalande, director of the UConn Stem Cell Institute, said funds it has received have not only helped in recruiting top scientists, “but have made sure they don’t leave for other states. This program has been a job generator and an economic engine.”

Murphy warned that cutting off investment now would not only put research in jeopardy, but would also threaten Connecticut’s ability to keep top scientists at these facilities to continue to build the state’s economy.

However, Rich Harris, spokesman for the governor, reminded legislators that it was Rell who first proposed funding stem cell research in Connecticut.

In January 2005, the governor proposed using funds from that year’s budget surplus, $315.6 million, to create a state stem cell fund “that will encourage research and innovation, help create jobs and eventually save lives.”

“She remains committed to the future of the program,” Harris said. “However, when the state budget, just three months old, is nearly half a billion dollars in deficit, spending simply must be prioritized.”

Harris added that it is worth noting that “the parties complaining about the potential loss of jobs are the very ones receiving state funding.”

“I know it’s difficult for legislators to make spending cuts,” Rell said Tuesday. “It’s difficult for me to propose them. Each cut has a constituency and each of those constituencies has been very clear in communicating their dismay. However, none of these constituencies has suggested a realistic alternative to making real, concrete reductions in state spending.”

“I know Gov. Rell made a commitment to the Connecticut stem cell industry,” said Zuckerberg. “It was also a commitment to my son, to the thousands of kids in the state with Type 1 diabetes, also patients suffering from cancer and Parkinson’s disease — all the diseases stem cell research has the potential to benefit. I hope she remembers this when the budget goes to a vote.”