Univ. researchers win $5.6M for stem-cell projects

Even as scientists across the country struggle to work around federal restrictions on stem cell research, Yale researchers will now enjoy the benefits of almost $6 million in grants.

Twelve Yale stem cell research projects received grants totaling $5.6 million from the Connecticut Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee on Tuesday. The money was distributed as part of Connecticut’s 10-year Stem Cell Research Program, established in 2005 to fund types of stem cell research deemed ineligible for federal financing. The twelve Yale proposals — in addition to ten winners from the University of Connecticut — were selected from a pool of 87 applicants, according to a University press release.

The top winners included the Yale Stem Cell Center, which received $1.8 million to expand its resources; a research team led by Eugene Redmond, professor of psychiatry and neurosurgery, which received $1.1 million to explore the potential of embryonic stem cells in treatment for Parkinson’s disease; and a team headed by Flora Vaccarino, associate professor of neurobiology, which received over $450,000 to examine the differentiation of neural stem cells.

Although most of the winning scientists interviewed said the additional funding will undoubtedly benefit their research, for some, the money simply will not go far enough.

Eugene Redmond, for example, said the committee cut his grant by half during deliberations. His project involves studying how stem cells differentiate into the cells that make up dopamine systems — a failure of which leads to Parkinson’s disease — by observing stem cells in monkeys with an experimental form of Parkinson’s. And because the exorbitant cost of buying monkeys for research in the U.S. is prohibitive — up to $5,000 apiece, Redmond said — his team plans to conduct their research at a facility in the West Indies.

But Redmond said the Advisory Committee, wary of the potential political repercussions of directing state taxpayer money out of the country, decided to cut the primate budget from the grant.

“I was a little bit disappointed,” Redmond said. “People are always concerned about shifting American jobs overseas. I don’t blame them for making the decision, but I was hoping they’d act differently.”

Redmond said the state grant will only cover about half of his project’s costs and he will have to look to other sources for the remaining funding.

But Flora Vaccarino said her grant of almost $450,000 will suffice.

Vaccarino said she is studying the behavior of neural stem cells in mice, with the eventual goal of discovering the genes that facilitate the differentiation of these stem cells into various types of neurons.

Her research, she said, is considered a risky investment because results are not guaranteed. It also uses a line of stem cells that the federal government — which only finances research on lines created before August 2001 — will not finance.

“Sometimes you don’t know what you’ll get, but you don’t have the money to try,” she said. “It’s very good for scientists to have a special place to do what they should be able to do without political roadblocks.”

Vaccarino said without the funds from the Advisory Committee, the project would not be able to survive, both because of federal restrictions as well as the decline in distributed grants across the sciences.

She said her proposal stood apart from the others because it involves both observation and application of certain genes in stem cells.

Similarly, Redmond said he thought his proposal was distinctive because of its practicality and because he thinks a clinical application may be possible in the near future.

But a representative of the Stem Cell Research Peer Review Committee — which scored the proposals and passed them on the Advisory Committee for evaluation —said applicability was not necessarily the primary concern. Linzhao Cheng, a member of the Peer Review Committee and professor at Johns Hopkins University, said the proposals were evaluated on the basis of five parameters widely used in the scientific community.

Cheng said these parameters included the proposals’ significance for both medicine and scientific research, including basic research; the feasibility of their approach; their creativity and innovation; the environment and available resources; and the qualifications of the investigators involved.

Lynn Townshend, executive aide to the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, agreed that the focus was not necessarily on studies that had immediate applications.

“[They wanted] to fund the best possible science,” Townshend, who helped run the committee meetings, said. “[Will this] translate from bench to body? In the far off future, we hope it will ultimately lead to the betterment of health.”

But the committee did have some preferences for the proposals they chose, Townshend said. Funding embryonic stem cell research — also ineligible for federal funding — was highly prioritized.

In fact, Townshend said, the state of Connecticut created the Stem Cell Research Program because of the lack of funding for new embryonic stem cell lines on the federal level.

The program was approved in 2005, instating a fund that is set to receive and distribute $100 million in state money over a period of 10 years. Grants totaling $19.78 million were awarded for the first time in November 2006 to Yale, UConn and Wesleyan University. The recent grants mark the second round of appropriations.

“We’ve got two major research institutions, and we want to be able to support them and their efforts in this new and burgeoning field,” Townshend said. “As a state we want those lines here and we want to keep them here.”

Other Yale proposals selected for funding included a proposal by Laura Niklason, professor of anesthesiology, to study the use of stem cells in creating vascular cells and blood vessels, as well as one by pharmacology professor Dianqing Wu to study the differentiation of embryonic stem cells into heart cells.

Comments

  • Dr. Robert N. Schwartz

    Drs. Redmond, Vaccarino et al.:

    I cannot believe that human living embryos will be sacrificed on your altars in the name of research when you recognize the incontrovertible saying that "the end can never justify the means," which suggests in your case that you are so eager to help mankind that you discard the lives of human beings, knowing full well that these lives were not created for your experimentation but for the Almighty, whom you will some day face.

    Dr. Robert N. Schwartz
    Director
    Stem-cell Research Group
    Houston, Texas

  • Anonymous

    is this a joke? have you seen an embryo? it is clearly not a person, and certainly not created for your "almighty" p.s. how many people are being killed each day in iraq to please your "almighty?" and how much of the environment is being burned down in "his name?" get real

  • Anne McGinnis Breen

    DEAR SIR,
    The lab specimen test tube human embryos you are refering to have been used in medical science and are recycled and reused as stem cells instead of being totally wasted and tossed in the trash(rubbish) at fertility clinics when they are not used by the woman in treatment. For more than twenty or thirty years since the first, then called infertility clinics, opened for women, millions of surplus, left over or inferior lab specimens of human embryos have been simply discarded as medical waste. No one objected or considered that immoral. Or called those doctors or woman or researchers murderers, until medical science found a way to study and reuse them to discover more about how these tiny building blocks of human cells really work. Medical doctors studying human anatomy using dead bodies were criticized by religious and legal authorities years ago too. This is the same type of rediculous historical trumped up personal objection to advancing science and our medical knowledge, so help me GOD. Please give our dedicated doctors the power to overrule the blind scientific ignorance of some arrogant know it all people who assume some men are like Gods and have actually created human life in a lab test tube. Without the natural sexual union of a man and a woman or any womb to place it in for its future growth and survival, it absolutely is not a real person yet. It has potential as a human by-product that is still being wasted, if we were better Christian sheperds and stewards of the vast number of these unwanted human cell resources, all surplus lab specimens from fertility clinics would be legally donated to medical science instead of bought and sold privately now like any other human commodity for a profit. There ought to be a simple law just like we have for donating human body parts after death on our drivers license. That would solve most of the human ethical issues for most reasonably well educated people, then we could focus on more important diplomatic lifesaving issues like the unjust death and total destruction of innocent lives in Iraq or from domestic violence and drunk driving in our own communities. I am quite sure "The Almighty" wants us save more real ordinary women and children's lives in our world today, not listen to quibbling for years (by powerful male elite who have nothing better to do) over their personal beliefs about two tiny pin size human cells artificially placed together in a test tube by a man. It wasn't the Almighty who did that, although some idiots today might think…the woman or her doctor might even be committing multiple murders if, after about two weeks in the lab it divides itself and turns into potential triplets LOL
    IT still has no neural brain cells, so thought or self reflection is impossible. AND, isn't the old religious standard doctrine about the natural "moment of conception" being the moment of "ensoulment"? How on earth can you imagine any personhood or ensoulment without any ability for human thought or self-reflection? The "I think, therefore I am" is the definition of what being human means to most people and theologians. If preachers would give up some imagined powers they think they have and stick to preaching what they know about people from "the womb to the tomb" instead of trying to control everyone else and all women's bodies we certainly would all appreciate their appropriate human counsel and guidance much more. Several major religions believe that their God is the only GOD, Does anyone know who's side he is currently on for sure? LOL What if they all have the same GOD and men just don't realize it because of cultural man made differences in the way they practice their religion?
    OK enough of my rambling thoughts and questions Ta ta for now GBYAY Anne