Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Stem cell research team receives grant

Northwestern will receive federal funding for one of two Centers of Excellence in Translational Human Stem Cell research in the country.

Dr. John A. Kessler, a neurology professor at NU’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the principal investigator of stem cell research at NU, said the $3.6 million, 4-year grant money came after a peer review of universities concluded that NU’s research was among the strongest in the stem cell research field.

“This is recognition that Northwestern is one of the major players-it’s our peers saying this is at the very top of what’s being done,” Kessler said.

The controversial research surrounds cells that can potentially develop into many different types of cells in the human body. It seeks to help understand other specialized cells and cure diseases.

The money from National Institutes of Health, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will go toward hiring more personnel for multi-disciplinary stem cell research into potential cures for spinal cord injury, diabetes and cancer. No new buildings will be built with the money.

The other center will be established at the University of California-Davis, which received $6 million dollars over four years to study umbilical cord blood stem cells for transplants and pediatric therapies, said Dr. Alice F. Tarantal, principal investigator at UC-Davis.

The grant comes with government-imposed restrictions. In 2001, President Bush prohibited the use of federal money to work with cell lines – the key ingredient of stem cells – which were created after Aug. 9, 2001.

“There is an absolute strict line between the NIH center and working with any cell line that’s not approved,” Kessler said. “Right now we’re in the middle of working out a very careful and clean policy that will make clear exactly what things can and can’t be done.”

Kessler said the restrictions don’t prevent other researchers at NU from conducting research on government-restricted cell lines or on therapeutic cloning, another practice that the federal government won’t fund. Therapeutic cloning involves transferring a patient’s DNA into an embryonic stem cell so people might be able to have their own designer stem cell lines if they need a transplant.

“The restrictions we operate under limit some of the things we might otherwise be able to do, and I wish we didn’t have them,” Kessler said.

Kessler plans to use the money to further research the use of human embryonic stem cells to repair damaged spinal cords, which is already being researched by one of NU’s teaching hospitals, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Late actor-activist Christopher Reeve supported the institute and made his last public appearance there in fall 2004.

Last year, NU’s Dance Marathon requested the funds it raised for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation not support the foundation’s $8.2 million it devotes to stem cell research each year.

Kessler does not anticipate the center receiving much negative attention from the NU community.

“I spend one day a week giving talks to people and I’ve testified in Congress,” he said. “I point out to people that this is all about saving and creating lives and not destroying them; it has nothing to do with the abortion issue.”

Still, Kessler said he sees the center as more of an opportunity than a limitation.

“It’s still a big deal because it’s international recognition of the work that we’re doing and it gives us a springboard to expand existing programs,” he said.

Reach Amanda Palleschi at [email protected].

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Stem cell research team receives grant