As reported by The Hartford Courant, July 21, 2011.

State Awards $9.8 Million for Stem Cell Research

Grants Will Fund 20 Projects

By William Weir

Officials announced Thursday that the state will award $9.8 million for 20 stem cell research projects.

The Connecticut Stem Cell Research Peer Review Committee awarded the grants after it considered 79 applications.

Of the 20 grants, nine were awarded to the University of Connecticut, nine to Yale, one to Wesleyan University and one to Chondrogenics Inc., a start-up company based at UConn.

The grants include $200,000 for research at UConn on a particular protein found in stem cells and the development of schizophrenia; $200,000 for Yale research on heart defects related to Down Syndrome; and $200,000 for research at UConn for Prader-Willi Syndrome.

The two biggest grants are for $1.29 million each. One goes to a team of researchers at UConn looking into stem cells' potential to treat drug-induced liver injury. Dr. Urs Boelsterli, a professor of toxicology and the research team's principal investigator, said stem cells may lead to an answer to what has long been a medical mystery. Certain drugs that have been found safe in most patients will cause serious liver damage in some.

"Why are they so susceptible to these drugs?" Boelsterli said. With this research, he hopes to develop genetic tests to identify patients who are susceptible to drug-induced liver damage. The researchers also aim to develop drugs that protect against this kind of damage.

Boelsterli said he's grateful for the funding, "especially since it's not the easiest time, with the economic conditions," he said.

The other grant goes to Chondrogenics, a research and development company at UConn that is investigating stem cells' potential to treat osteoarthritic cartilage damage. The lead researcher, Caroline Dealy, an associate professor in the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Skeletal Development at UConn Health Center, has developed a process to replace damaged cartilage with stem cells. With the three-year grant, the team will further develop the process.

Connecticut was one of the first states to fund stem cell research, and since 2005, the state each year has awarded $10 million in grants for stem cell work. The funding began partly in response to restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research imposed during the administration of President George W. Bush.