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Harvard Enters Stem Cell Fray

2 March 2004 (All day)
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Stocking up. Douglas Melton is raising new cells and a new institute.

BOSTON--Harvard University intends to raise on the order of $100 million in the next few years to create a stem cell research institute. The initiative will focus on bringing work on such cells out of the lab and into the clinic, and it will operate without federal funding to avoid government restrictions. Harvard will also draw on faculty members from outside science to address the thorny ethical, business, and policy aspects of the controversial research.

Harvard's foray into the field was underscored by a report this week that Douglas Melton, a co-director of the new effort, and colleagues have created 17 new human embryonic stem cell lines. Melton says his team developed the new lines because "we were not convinced that the numbers and quality available to do our research" were sufficient. They had to use private funds because in 2001, President George W. Bush declared that federal funds could be used for research only on then-existing cell lines. The new cell lines, described in the 25 March issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, can be more easily grown and used in the lab than existing lines, he adds.

The Harvard institute will focus on issues such as why some stem cells don't transplant successfully and which disease processes might be halted by stem cell therapies. In addition, the institute will turn to Harvard schools of government, law, business, and divinity for advice on issues related to stem cell research. Harvard officials decline to provide financial details, but one says that $100 million is the "crude figure" necessary to power the institute, and that at least one donor has already been found.

The competition for both dollars and researchers is sure to be fierce. Stanford University, the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, already are pulling in substantial private funds for stem cell research. Meanwhile, California enthusiasts are pushing a ballot initiative for November that would issue $3 billion in bonds for the research over a decade (Science, 16 January, p. 293). It follows a state law promoting stem cell work. In New Jersey, a new state law does the same, and the governor is backing a 5-year, $50 million research fund that would combine state and private monies.

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