As published as an editorial in the New Haven Register, February 17, 2009.
Stem Cell Research Advances in State
President Barack Obama is expected to reverse a Bush administration policy that effectively strangled federal aid in the enormously promising field of embryonic stem cells. The undifferentiated cells that have the capacity to grow into any specialized cells open wide possibilities for the repair of damage caused by illness or injury.
Stem cell research did not end after President George W. Bush restricted federal research aid to only a handful of stem cell colonies that existed in 2001. Because of the age, possible contamination and limited number of these stem cells, scientists complained that their research was being severely hampered.
With research in the United States in jeopardy of slipping behind that in other countries, Connecticut and other states stepped in to pay for the research. Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the legislature recognized the significance of the research and its potential economic impact for the state's biotechnology sector. Connecticut was one of the first states to fund this basic research. In 2005, the legislature approved $100 million in grants to researchers over 10 years.
Since then, grants have gone to Yale and Wesleyan universities and the University of Connecticut. The University of Connecticut's Health Center used a 2007 grant to establish an embryonic stem cell laboratory. That laboratory now has produced two stem cell lines, or colonies. Stem cell lines created since the 2001 federal ban are highly prized by researchers. UConn is one of only a few universities to have produced fresh stem cell lines.
This feat means that even if the federal restrictions are lifted, Connecticut scientists will remain in the forefront of this work. The foresight of lawmakers has made the state a center for research that one day may yield treatments for spinal cord injuries and diseases such as Alzheimer's and juvenile diabetes.