Sad to see a scientist leave

The only upside is possible collaboration with Verfaillie’s future professional home, Catholic University of Leuven.

While many researchers and scientists will be sad to see the University’s Stem Cell Institute director leave for her alma mater in Belgium, and rightly so, they should also be hopeful her departure will fuel a positive collaboration with the European school on cutting-edge stem cell research.

Catherine Verfaillie has been at the University 17 years and made huge strides in its success as a leader in stem cell research – even being named one of the top 10 innovators in the country in 2000 by U.S. News & World Report.

Although today’s political climate has not been especially conducive to expanding Verfaillie’s research, she said she is not leaving for that reason – albeit, she admitted Belgium is more relaxed about stem cell research than the United States. This might prove valuable if Verfaillie is to nurture a partnership between the Catholic University of Leuven and the University of Minnesota. Such partnerships are critical to develop and maintain if stem cell research is to make significant progress.

The current presidential administration seeks to severely limit the potential of this relatively new technology, claiming there is no proof embryonic stem cells will be valuable to medicine. But the same claim could have been made about space exploration – no one predicted the inventions springing from that endeavor would be so commonplace years later.

The same is true for stem cells: The applications are virtually limitless if scientists are given the resources to explore them. Hopefully, fruitful partnerships between universities in different countries will encourage lawmakers to consider all the potential stem cells offer.

While it is unfortunate that the University of Minnesota will lose an outspoken advocate for stem cell research on campus, the transition will pave the way for more discoveries – if the research continues to receive adequate funding. The Stem Cell Institute should now recruit the brightest, most creative minds it can to work toward its goal of improving quality of life for those for whom stem cells might be a solution, as well as pushing state and national lawmakers to allow that goal to become a reality.