State Awards $9.8 Million For Stem Cell Projects

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Monday announced $9.8 million in grants to 19 stem cell research projects in the state. The Connecticut Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee had selected the recipients at its grant review meeting last Tuesday in Farmington.

"Connecticut's continued support of stem cell research has allowed for exciting and innovative research to take place right here in our state," Malloy said in a statement. "The research projects funded by these grants allow scientists to do revolutionary work that puts Connecticut at the forefront of bioscience industry."

Of the 19 grants, 13 grants totaling $7.25 million were awarded to Yale scientists, five went to University of Connecticut researchers, and one went to a collaboration between Wesleyan and UConn scientists.

The largest grant, $1.8 million, was awarded to D. Eugene Redmond of Yale. Redmond has focused on cellular repair in the nervous system and how it relates to Parkinson's disease.

UConn's Stormy Chamberlain, an assistant professor of genetics and developmental biology at the UConn Health Center, received a $450,000 grant to develop new therapies for Prader-Willi syndrome and Angelman Syndrome, both rare genetic disorders. Children born with Prader-Willi Syndrome have difficulty feeding and develop poor muscle tone, and starting about age 2, they develop an insatiable appetite that lasts for their lifetime. People with Angelman Syndrome suffer speech difficulties, seizures, problems with motor control and balance, and serious intellectual disabilities

Although Chamberlain generally focuses on Angelman Syndrome, the three-year project also will include Prader-Willi because the causes of the two disorders are similar. Angelman Syndrome is caused by the deletion of genes on a certain chromosome on the mother's side, while Prader-Willi Syndrome is caused by the deletion of genes in same chromosome on the father's side.

Chamberlain estimates that she's one of 30 researchers in the U.S. who studies Angelman Syndrome.

"The state funding really helps rare diseases because the foundations that typically fund their research are limited," she said, adding that support often is limited to fundraisers organized by families of those with the conditions.

A stem cell education outreach program, run by Laura Grabel, a professor of biology at Wesleyan, and Ren-He Xu, a professor of genetics at UConn, received $500,000. Grabel said the program, which has been in operation since 2006, holds workshops and retreats for stem cell researchers and educates the general public by sending speakers to schools and various organizations. The program also has representatives speak to high school science teachers about incorporating stem cell science in their curricula.

Although the program was started partly because of the controversy over the use of stem cells, Grabel said "we've seen very little pushback it's been very positive."

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State Awards $9.8 Million For Stem Cell Projects

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