Headlines

As reported by The Hartford Courant, June 25, 2010.

UConn Receives Federal Approval for Four Lines of Embryonic Stem Cells

By Arielle Levin Becker

There are fewer than 80 lines of human embryonic stem cells eligible to be used for federally funded research and, as of this week, four of them come from the University of Connecticut.

UConn's four lines of human embryonic stem cells the building blocks for a promising field of research received approval from the National Institutes of Health this week, putting UConn in a small group of institutions that can supply the cells to scientists working with federal funds.

Researchers created the lines at the stem cell core facility built at the UConn Health Center using state grants.

"It justifies that we've used the state's investment and really moved to the national stage in terms of human embryonic stem cell research," said Marc Lalande, director of UConn's Stem Cell Institute. "It's a success, no doubt about it."

Unlike other cells in the body, stem cells have not yet taken on specific functions and, instead, carry the potential to develop into many different types of cells. Scientists believe that they could hold the key to understanding and treating a wide range of diseases and conditions.

For much of the past decade, federal funding for work involving human embryonic stem cells was limited to research using a small number of cell lines derived before August 2001, when President George W. Bush instituted the restrictions. President Barack Obama eased the restrictions last year, but researchers using federal funds can only work with human embryonic stem cell lines that have been approved by NIH.

So far, 75 stem cell lines have been approved, although three are currently on hold. They come from 13 institutions, including Harvard University, Children's Hospital Boston, and the University of California, San Francisco.

As part of the NIH review process, a panel determines whether the stem cell lines, and the process by which they were created, meet federal guidelines, which include rules for how the embryos were obtained.

UConn's four lines were among eight lines approved this week. Another application involving 47 stem cell lines was rejected because of concerns about the language used in the consent form for the embryo donations.

At UConn, the stem cells were derived from four different embryos, which were secured through The Center for Advanced Reproductive Services, the university's fertility center. People who had frozen embryos there were given the choice of donating embryos for stem cell research. Those who did so were required to undergo interviews and sign consent forms, Lalande said.

The process for obtaining embryos was reviewed by an institutional review board and a research oversight committee.

UConn researchers announced the creation of the first two stem cell lines last January.