U hopeful research funding will continue under Republicans

Dan Haugen

University administrators expressed optimism this week that the institution’s research can continue to thrive under a Republican majority in state and national governments.

From funding for the proposed Translational Research Facility to a nationwide ban on human cloning research, newly elected government leaders will likely have a chance to weigh in on a number of policy issues relating to University research endeavors.

“It’s too early to tell exactly what effect there will be,” said David Hamilton, interim vice president for research.

A human cloning ban passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last year could affect the future availability of embryonic stem cells for research purposes.

Some scientists are experimenting with a technique called therapeutic cloning, which involves making embryonic clones in order to cultivate stem cells with certain traits. The House bill would include that practice and could be revisited now that the Republican Party also has a majority in the U.S. Senate, where the legislation eventually stalled last year.

While stem cell research elsewhere might suffer, Hamilton said the University would not be adversely affected by such a policy because most of the University’s stem cell research uses adult stem cells – taken from bone marrow – and not embryos.

How lawmakers decide to fund certain federal agencies could have a much greater effect on the University. In the last fiscal year, 70 percent of the University’s sponsored research dollars came from federal government agencies.

At a Board of Regents committee meeting Thursday, Hamilton said the pending Homeland Security Act, another piece of legislation that stands a better chance under the coming Republican majority, could create a wealth of research grant money. Another possibility, however, is that the creation of terrorism- and security-related research funds will drain other areas, he said.

On the state level, major research concerns will include securing funds for the University’s Translational Research Facility and protecting the Academic Health Center’s tobacco fund endowment.

“I think (Governor-elect Tim) Pawlenty has been incredibly supportive of the Academic Health Center,” said Frank Cerra, senior vice president for the center. “He was very instrumental in supporting the endowments and the (Translational Research Facility) bonding bill, and I expect that will continue.”

Pawlenty is bound, though, by billions in state debt and a “no new taxes” pledge, so budget cuts are a possibility. Cerra said research isn’t invulnerable, but the fact that much of it is subsidized by outside sources makes it slightly more stable.

Dan Haugen covers University research and welcomes comments at [email protected]