As reported by The Hartford Courant, January 27, 2010.

Stem Cell Funding Delayed

By Arielle Levin Becker

State legislators killed the governor's proposal late last year to postpone $10 million in stem cell research grants scheduled to be awarded to scientists this spring.

But with a looming budget deficit, the state Department of Public Health has pushed back this round of stem cell funding, at least until lawmakers reach a resolution on the budget. The department received about 90 applications for stem cell grants but will wait to begin the peer review process that helps determine which proposals receive funding.

 "Not knowing if the $10 million is there or not, we felt that it would make sense to put it on hold until we have more information," state health department spokesman William Gerrish said Tuesday.

The postponement means an indefinite wait for researchers seeking funding. Because the field is evolving quickly, grant proposals cannot simply be resubmitted a year later, said Marc Lalande, director of the University of Connecticut Stem Cell Institute.

Lalande and other researchers spent part of December lobbying for the funding, and may end up spending more time away from the lab to argue for the research money.

"It's a little bit frustrating, to tell you the truth," he said.

UConn researchers submitted 44 proposals for funding this year, including some that would continue work already started. Those include research into a cancer vaccine and efforts to derive bone or cartilage from human embryonic stem cells, which could have implications for treating bone injuries sustained in war or cartilage damage from arthritis.

Lalande and other researchers say cutting or postponing the funding would be counterproductive, making it more difficult to recruit or keep top scientists in the state. They say it would send a bad signal about Connecticut's commitment to a program they credit with creating jobs, fostering start-up companies and putting state researchers in a position to capture millions of dollars in federal grants.

"We just got the program going, and so I think if we could keep the program on track, we would more than pay it back with additional federal funding that we're going to get from the [National Institutes of Health]," Lalande said.

In three rounds of grant funding, the state has awarded $39.4 million to scientists at UConn, Yale University and Wesleyan University. The annual $10 million allotment comes from the state tobacco trust fund.

Late last year, as part of a plan to address the budget deficit, Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed postponing the next round of stem cell funding for a year, putting the $10 million into the general fund instead.

Lawmakers blocked Rell's proposal to transfer the stem cell money in December. In their own budget-cutting plan, passed that month, legislators did not cut the stem cell money, but Rell vetoed the proposal. The next legislative session begins next week.