News Release

April 1, 2009

Contact: David Bauman, 860-486-5627 (office)

Contact: Carolyn Pennington, 860-679-4864

Contact: Chris DeFrancesco, 860-679-3914

UConn Stem Cell Research Projects Awarded $5.4 Million in State Grants

FARMINGTON, CONN. – Eleven University of Connecticut scientists received state-funded grant awards Tuesday, totaling $5.4 million from the Connecticut Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee (SCRAC) to advance embryonic and human adult stem cell research in Connecticut.

Nine of the state grants were awarded to scientists based at the UConn Health Center in Farmington and two to researchers based at UConn’s Storrs campus. The grants were among a total of 24 research proposals awarded nearly $9.8 million in the third round of funding issued by the SCRAC, a 13-member committee in charge of developing the Connecticut stem cell research grants-in-aide program.

“These grants are further testament to the ground-breaking work in stem cell research that’s going on at UConn’s Health Center and Storrs campuses,” said UConn President Michael Hogan. “This further investment by the State in our stem cell programs reflects the leadership role that UConn researchers are playing in scientific discovery and state-of-the-art healthcare. I’m very proud of the work of our research teams.”

The funding program, approved by the legislature and Gov. Jodi M. Rell in 2005, set aside $100 million for Connecticut-based embryonic and adult stem cell research through 2015. Stem cells are the 'building blocks' for every type of cell in the body, capable of maturing into any tissue type including pancreas, blood, bone or neuronal cells. Research on stem cells promises to advance human health care by developing innovative cell transplantation therapies for diabetes, cancers, heart and blood diseases, Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer's diseases.

In 2006, the SCRAC disbursed $20 million for 21 stem cell training and research programs at UConn and other Connecticut universities in the first round of competitive grants. In 2008, another 22 research proposals were awarded nearly $9.8 million in the second round. After Tuesday’s third round, the state award program has awarded UConn scientists $20.7 million out of the nearly $40 million disbursed thus far.

For this third round, the SCRAC received 77 preliminary requests seeking more than $30 million for research projects. UConn and its Health Center submitted 41 of the research proposals; Yale University turned in 30, Wesleyan University, the University of Hartford, and Western Connecticut State University each submitted one proposal as did two small biotech firms based in the state.

Last month, a separate group of scientists conducted a “peer review” evaluating all the applications and ranked each proposal for the state stem cell panel with respect to the ethical and scientific merit.

The state stem cell panel awards four types of grants:

  • Seed grants to support early phases of research that is not ready for larger scale funding of $100,000 per year for 2 years.
  • Established Investigator grants for scientists with a track record of independent research and grant support of up to $250,000 per year for three years.
  • Group Project grants to support coordinated research among several investigators aimed at specific goals that are beyond the scope of a single laboratory of up to $2 million over 4 years.
  • Core Facility awards intended to establish or maintain centers with the equipment and personnel necessary to operate a core lab that will be made accessible to the state stem cell research community.

In Tuesday’s third round, the SCRAC awarded UConn investigators five seed grants, five established investigator grants and one core facility proposal.

Seed grants recipients are:

  • Yong Wang, School of Engineering in Storrs, Hybrid Peptide/RNA Molecules for Safe and Efficient Gene Silencing in Human embryonic stem (ES) cells, $200,000.
  • Srdjan Antic, Neuroscience, UConn Health Center, Can natural Neuromodulators Improve the Generation of Nerve Cells from Human ES cells, $200,000.
  • Stormy Chamberlain, Genetics and Developmental Biology, UConn Health Center, A human cell culture model of Angelman syndrome for drug screening, $200,000.
  • Ling-Ling Chen, Genetics and Developmental Biology, UConn Health Center, Novel Aspects of RNA editing in Human ES cells, $200,000.
  • April Schumacher, Molecular, Microbial and Structural Biology, UConn Health Center, Evaluation of homologous recombination in Human ES cells and stimulation using viral proteins, $200,000.

Established Investigator grant recipients are:

  • Dashzeveg Bayarsaihan, Reconstructive Sciences, UConn Health Center, Williams Syndrome associated TFII-I factor and epigenetic marking-out in Human ES cells and Induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells, $500,000.
  • Linda Shapiro, Center for Vascular Biology, UConn Health Center, Mechanisms of Stem Cell Homing to the injured heart, $500,000.
  • Zihai Li, Immunology, UConn Health Center, Therapeutic differentiation of regulatory T cells from iPS for immune tolerance, $500,000.
  • Theodore Rasmussen, Center for Regenerative Biology, Storrs, Prevention of spontaneous differentiation and epigenetic compromise of Human ES cells and iPS cells, $500,000.
  • Alexander Lichtler, Reconstructive Sciences, UConn Health Center, Development of iPS cells to study craniometaphyseal dysplasia in humans, $500,000.

UConn Core grant recipients are:

  • Ren-He Xu, Genetics and Developmental Biology, UConn Health Center, Continuing and enhancing the Uconn Stem Cell Core laboratory, $1.9 million.

“These grants will fuel the research of some of the most creative stem cell scientists in the world, allowing them to pursue significant new directions in stem cell research,” said Dr. Marc Lalande, professor and chair of the Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology, associate dean for research planning and coordination at the University of Connecticut Health Center and Director of the University of Connecticut’s Stem Cell Institute.

Hailing the SCRAC’s continued support for the UConn Stem Cell Core laboratory, Lalande said: “The state-funded core lab is playing a critical role to train stem cell scientists and ensure they are prepared to move basic research findings from the lab to the clinic.”

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Marc Lalande, Ph.D.
Professor and chair of the Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology
University of Connecticut Health Center
Phone: 860-679-2513

Dr. Ren-He XU, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and director of the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Core Facility Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology
University of Connecticut Health Center
Phone: 860-679-3363

Lynn Townshend, Administrative Assistant to:
Dr. Robert Galvin, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Public Health; and Chairman of the Connecticut Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee (SCRAC)
Phone: 860-509-7158

Therese Wallace, Administrative Assistant to:
Paul Pescatello, President/CEO CURE - The Center of Connecticut's Bioscience Cluster
Phone: 203-777-8747 extension 202

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