Alpern fields stem cell questions on state legislature panel

Yale Medical School Dean Robert Alpern testified yesterday on the possible economic and medical benefits of stem cell research at an informational hearing of the joint Commerce and Higher Education Committees of the Connecticut General Assembly. The hearing proceeds from debate over a bill to legalize and fund the research.

“I told them why I believe stem cell research is so important,” Alpern said. “I spoke about how it is likely to lead to major advances in medical care and biotechnology.”

Republican Gov. Jodi Rell has proposed to spend $20 million over the next two years to sponsor the research.

Alpern also discussed the possible benefits to the state’s economy. Money for stem cell research would attract more talented scientists to Connecticut, he said, which would benefit the state’s biotechnology industry.

Connecticut is one of many states that are currently considering or have passed bills funding stem cell research. Maryland, Florida, New Jersey and New York have all considered allocating such funds. In early February, the Virginia state senate voted to establish a stem cell research fund named after recently deceased actor Christopher Reeve. After debate, the senate decided it would not support embryonic stem cell research, a particularly controversial brand of research using cells from human embryos.

The stem cell question has been raised in several political arenas but received attention from state legislatures after California voters approved Proposition 71, allocating $295 million a year for the next 10 years to support stem cell research.

In the wake of the California legislation, Alpern said, it has been difficult to attract researchers back east to Yale’s own fledgling stem cell research unit.

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