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UConn stem cell researchers receive state funding for work

by David Bauman - April 7, 2008

Nine UConn faculty members, representing disciplines including neuroscience, immunology, genetics, and molecular medicine, have been awarded $3.3 million in state funding for human embryonic stem cell research.

Seven of the grants were awarded to scientists based at the Health Center, and two to researchers at the Center for Regenerative Biology in Storrs.

The awards were among a total of 22 grants totaling nearly $10 million in the second round of funding announced April 1 by the Connecticut Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee (SCRAC), a 13-member committee in charge of developing the state’s stem cell research grants-in-aid program.

“We are very pleased with the results,” said Dr. Marc Lalande, chair of the Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology, associate dean for research planning and coordination at the Health Center, and director of the University’s Stem Cell Institute.

“We hope the research to be funded using these taxpayer monies will bring honor to the state of Connecticut.”

The funding program, approved by the legislature and Gov. M. Jodi Rell in 2005, set aside $100 million for Connecticut-based embryonic and adult stem cell research through 2015.

In 2006, the committee awarded $20 million in the first round of competitive funds for stem cell training and research programs at UConn and other Connecticut universities.

For this second round, the committee received 87 preliminary requests seeking nearly $45 million for research projects.

Proposals were submitted by Yale University, the University of Hartford, and several small biotech firms based in the state, as well as UConn.

The applications were peer reviewed by a separate group of scientists, which ranked each proposal for the state stem cell panel with respect to the ethical and scientific merit.

The state panel awarded four types of grants:

  • seed grants of $100,000 per year for two years to support early phases of research that is not ready for larger scale funding;
  • established investigator grants of up to $250,000 per year for scientists with a track record of independent research and grant support;
  • group project grants of up to $2 million over four years to support coordinated research among several investigators aimed at specific goals that are beyond the scope of a single laboratory;
  • and 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.

UConn seed grant recipients:
Mark Carter, Center for Regenerative Biology, Storrs
Early differentiation markers in human embryonic stem cells, $200,000

Laijun Lai, Immunology, Health Center
Cytokine-induced production of transplantable hematopoietic stem cells from human embryonic stem cells, $200,000

Dharamainder Choudhary, Surgery, Health Center
Differentiation of human embryonic stem cell lines to neural crest derived trabecular meshwork like cells, $200,000

UConn established investigator grant recipients:
Bruce Mayer, Genetics & Developmental Biology, Health Center
Tyrosine phosphorylation profiles associated with self-renewal and differentiation of human embryonic stem cells, $450,000

Kent Morest, Neuroscience, Health Center
Directed differentiation of embryonic stem cells into cochlear precursors for transplants as treatment of deafness, $450,000

Daniel Rosenberg, Molecular Medicine, Health Center
Targeting lineage committed stem cells to damaged intestinal mucosa, $450,000

Xuejun Li, Neuroscience, Health Center
Modeling motor neuron degeneration in spinal muscular atrophy using human embryonic stem cells, $450,000

UConn group grant recipient:
Theodore Rasmussen, Center for Regenerative Biology in Storrs
Production and validation of patient-matched pluripotent cells for improved cutaneous repair, $634,880

UConn core grant recipient:
Hector Aguila, Immunology, Health Center
In addition, a core grant was awarded to Evergen, a biotechnology company started in lab space provided by UConn’s Technology Incubation Program.

The new grants bring UConn’s total of state stem cell funding to $14.4 million.

“These are leading neuroscientists and cell and developmental biologists who bring fresh perspectives and backgrounds to the field and will help determine the potential of embryonic stem cells both for understanding and treating cancers and many other diseases and for developing cell-based therapies,” said Lalande.

“The University is in an ideal position to advance this cutting-edge research.”

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