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State gives $12 million to UConn for stem cell research

by David Bauman - November 28, 2006

The University last week received 15 grant awards totaling more than $12 million of the nearly $20 million awarded by the Connecticut Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee to advance embryonic and human adult stem cell research in the state.

A total of 21 grants were awarded.

The disbursements are the first made under Connecticut's 10-year, $100 million commitment to fund stem cell research, as authorized by Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the General Assembly in 2005.

California, New Jersey, Maryland, and Illinois have passed stem cell research legislation, but Connecticut is the first state to implement an ongoing, structured grant program for stem cell research.

The state-funded grants will support some 23 investigators from UConn departments at both the Storrs campus and the Health Center who are already engaged in significant stem cell and regenerative biology research.

The grants also will expand UConn's cross-campus Stem Cell Institute, which is committed to stem cell biology, while allowing scientists in the state to conduct human embryonic stem cell research in the face of a ban on the use of federal funds for such research.

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 disorders, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's disease.

"These awards recognize the expertise of University of Connecticut faculty in a field of great promise to medical research and great potential to contribute to our state's economic growth," said President Philip E. Austin.

"UConn is playing a leadership role not only in the scientific aspects of stem cell research but in dealing with the ethical and philosophical issues."

Eight Connecticut-based universities and non-profit institutes submitted 70 research proposals totaling $65 million to the state stem cell panel.

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 ethical and scientific merit.

"The committee was impressed by the quality of our research proposals and how these were integrated with the human embryonic stem cell core facility that has been established here at UConn," said Marc Lalande, professor and chair of the Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology and associate dean for research planning and coordination at the Health Center.

"The funding provided by the state will greatly help us to achieve our goals in understanding the biological basis of cell-based regenerative medicine."

UConn faculty from both Storrs and the Health Center submitted a total of 39 grant applications in five categories - seed grants of $100,000 in each of two years; established investigator grants of up to $250,000 annually for four years; group project grants of up to $4 million over four years; core facility awards of $5 million over four years; and hybrid grants with a $5 million budget over four years.

The UConn grant awards include:

$3.52 million Directing hES Derived Progenitor Cells into Musculoskeletal Lineages, David W. Rowe, principal investigator, UConn Health Center and UConn.

$2.5 million Human ES Cell Core at University of Connecticut and Wesleyan University, Ren-He Xu, principal investigator, UConn Health Center.

$880,000 DsRNA and Epigenetic Regulation in Embryonic Stem Cells, Gordon Carmichael, UConn Health Center.

$880,000 Alternative Splicing in Human Embryonic Stem Cells, Brenton Graveley, principal investigator UConn Health Center.

$880,000 SMAD4-based ChIP-chip Analysis to Screen Target Genes of BMP and TGF Signaling in Human ES Cells, Ren-He Xu, principal investigator, UConn Health Center.

$561,631 Migration and Integration of Embryonic Stem Cell Derived Neurons into Cerebral Cortex, Joseph LoTurco, principal investigator, Department of Physiology and Neurobiology.

$529,871 Optimizing Axonal Regeneration Using a Polymer Implant Containing hESC-derived Glia, Akiko Nishiyama, Department of Physiology and Neurobiology.

$200,000 Development of Efficient Methods for Reproducible and Inducible Transgene Expression in Human Embryonic Stem Cells, James Li, principal investigator, UConn Health Center.

$200,000 Pragmatic Assessment of Epigenetic Drift in Human ES Cell Lines, Theodore Rasmussen, principal investigator, Department of Animal Science.

$200,000 Cell Cycle and Nuclear Reprogramming by Somatic Cell Fusion , Winfried Krueger, principal investigator, UConn Health Center.

$200,000 Quantitative Analysis of Molecular Transport and Population Kinetics of Stem Cell Cultivation in a Microfluidic System, Tai-Hsi Fan, principal investigator, Department of Mechanical Engineering.

$200,000 Embryonic Stem Cell as a Universal Cancer Vaccine, Bei Liu and Zihai Li, principal investigators, UConn Health Center.

$200,000 Lineage Mapping of Early Human Embryonic Stem Cell Differentiation, Craig Nelson, principal investigator, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.

$200,000 Generation of Insulin Producing Cells from Human Embryonic Stem Cells, Gang Xu, principal investigator, Center for Regenerative Biology.

In addition to UConn, grants were awarded to Yale University, the Yale School of Medicine, and Wesleyan University.

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