As published as an editorial in the New Haven Register, July 5, 2010.

UConn Reaches Stem Cell Milestone

Connecticut’s support of embryonic stem cell research has reached an important milestone with the announcement that four stem cell cultures grown at the University of Connecticut have been approved for use in federally funded research.

With the announcement, UConn joins a handful of universities that have developed stem cell lines approved for research with federal funding. President George W. Bush had severely restricted aid for the research, despite its potential in treating or curing a number of injuries or diseases with the undifferentiated cells, which can grow into specific types of tissue.

Seeing the potential, a number of states, including Connecticut, established funds to pay for the research after Bush’s restrictions, which have since been eased by the Obama administration.

Underlining the potential of all stem cell research, Italian scientists have announced they have restored sight in 82 patients who had been blinded in one eye by caustic chemicals. One person who was blinded in an eye 60 years ago had his sight almost fully restored. The scientists used stem cells from the healthy eye to grow new corneal tissue that was transplanted into the blinded eye.

Unlike the stem cells used in Italy, UConn’s stem cells were taken from four frozen embryos donated by people who had stored them at the university’s fertility center.

The state, which established a 10-year, $100 million research fund, has granted $9.8 million this year for stem cell research at UConn and Yale University. In this highly competitive research field, California recently announced $25 million in grants to researchers there. Although far smaller than California, Connecticut now joins the Golden State in developing embryonic stem cells for research that could change the face of medicine.