Wis. stem cell plan might not be a threat to U

Gov. Jim Doyle announced a plan to spend $750M on biotechnology and stem cell research in Wis.

Hayley Odom

Efforts to beef up stem cell and biotechnology research are beginning to multiply across the nation.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle announced a plan last week to spend approximately $750 million on biotechnology and stem cell research during the next several years.

And before that, on Nov. 2, Californians voted to use $3 billion of taxpayer funds for stem cell research during the next 10 years.

But an official at the University’s Stem Cell Institute said the other states’ increased funding does not pose an immediate threat to the institution.

Melanie Fonder, a spokeswoman from Doyle’s office, said Wisconsin’s dedication to biotechnology and stem cell research sends the message that it is important for states to deepen their current investments.

“Wisconsin can’t match California dollar for dollar,” she said. “But California can’t match what Wisconsin already has, which is first-class research facilities and the best scientists in the world.”

She said she did not think this investment would affect the relationship between Wisconsin and Minnesota’s research efforts.

“At the end of the day, what’s important is continuing the research to find cures for diseases like Parkinson’s, diabetes and multiple sclerosis,” she said. “Whether you’re an individual state or working together, that’s what the goal is.”

Although the California and Wisconsin fundings will not create immediate competition for the University’s Stem Cell Institute, it does mean the institute must accelerate its pursuit of private funds for embryonic stem cell research, said Sarah Youngerman, a spokeswoman for the institute.

If California’s investment seems to be paying off in the

future, she said, the University could see an erosion of its recruits.

But the University is ahead of many other states that have not made any initial investments in biotechnology or stem cell research.

“We have invested over a half-billion dollars in labs, infrastructure – meaning buildings and operating costs – and recruits,” she said. This includes certain University initiatives and the University and Mayo Clinic’s biotechnology and medical genomics partnership, she said.

The partnership is asking for $70 million during the next five years from the State Legislature to continue its biotechnology and research efforts, she said.

“That’s the kind of margin we need to move us from an institution and partnership that is heavily invested in this area to a place where we’re making a real difference in medical treatment options with this research,” she said.

Other states’ investments and commitments to this type of research should be a wake-up call to Minnesota legislators, she said, especially those who want the state to be known for this type of research.

Brian McClung, Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s press secretary, said Minnesota has a natural advantage when it comes to biotechnology and research initiatives because of the strength of the partnership.

“Gov. Pawlenty has been focused on bringing the University and Mayo together to harness their power and make sure that Minnesota continues to lead in this area,” he said.

He said the $20 million proposal for the partnership is the next step in the biotechnology race for Minnesota. McClung also said IBM announced in August that it would join the partnership. Because of that, the partnership now has access to the world’s fastest computer, McClung said.

He said Pawlenty’s request that the State Legislature come together for a special session to pass the state’s bonding bill was not a direct response to other states’ biotechnology initiatives.

The $20 million for the partnership is part of the bonding bill.