WisBusiness: Coverage of World Stem Cell Summit in Madison

The World Stem Cell Summit is in Madison this year, drawing hundreds of international researchers, venture capitalists and other experts with a series of panel discussions and workshops. The Summit is scheduled to run from Sept. 22-23 at Madison’s Alliant Energy Center. Read below for WisBusiness.com coverage of selected summit events.


Thompson says he pushed Bush to fund stem cell research

Calling it “a story that I guess I can tell now that President Bush is almost out of office,” former Gov. Tommy Thompson today told the World Stem Cell Summit in Madison about an internal Bush administration battle over stem cell research that happened when he was serving as secretary of Health and Human Services.

Thompson said he spoke with George W. Bush during an Oval Office lunch before the president’s August 2001 address to the nation on federal stem cell policy.

“Karl Rove was in the room,” Thompson said. “Then the president said ‘I want you to debate embryonic stem cells Karl. I know you’re opposed and Tommy I know you’re for it.’

“We debated for an hour. I finally turned to the president with my closing remarks … ‘You can double the money for NIH, you can give more money for cancer research, but if in fact you do not allow the funding for embryonic stem cells you will always be remembered as the person who stopped research on stem cells.’”

Thompson recounted his argument: “Mr. President every person has someone in their family has Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s, or spinal cord injury, or cancer, or any other disease that stem cells might cure.

“Everybody has someone in their family or a special friend that that stem cells might cure. Mr. President, it gives them hope,” he said.

In his August 2001 address, Bush announced he would OK federal funding for research on existing stem cell lines, but not new ones.

“If it were not for that lunch I feel that research on those first lines of stem cells would not have taken place,” Thompson told the crowd.

“Now we only have 21 stem cell lines. We have $650 million ready to be used, with people waiting on the sidelines to see what is going to happen in Washington,” Thompson said. “The future is very promising, not from the economic part of it, but for the quest of the people in this room. Regenerative medicine is here to stay. And every single one of you scientists are on the cutting edge.”

Thompson said he had a personal interest in furthering the cause of stem cell research.

“I come from a family with breast cancer. My mother died from it, my wife had it, as many of you people her from Wisconsin know, and my baby daughter Tommi had it,” he said

“We have the chance in this room to find it (the cure for cancer). You can’t put boundaries around science. If you do it here they’ll do it in California, and London and China. Share the research, do it,” Thompson told the crowd.

Thompson also talked about the history of stem cell research in Wisconsin.

“I was there at the beginning, back when we first began to see the advances in science at the UW-Madison campus by Dr. Jamie Thomson. Only problem I ever found with Jamie is that he spells Thomson without a ‘P,’” Thompson quipped.

“We were allowing the beginning of regenerative medicine, started here in Wisconsin,” Thompson recalled. “I got beat up along with way, bringing Jamie to the Capitol for my State of the State speech,” he said, recalling conservative opposition to embryonic stem cell research. “But in Wisconsin we began to do great things.”

He said educating the public was an important component of stem cell work.

“My message today is, whoever is elected president and in Congress, our duty is to educate them with the possibilities and the opportunities,” Thompson said. “That’s why I drove from Minneapolis today at 4:30 this morning. I believe that we have to support science here and everywhere.”

— By Tracy Will


8 p.m.: Doyle declares political fight on stem cell research over in Wisconsin

Gov. Jim Doyle said tonight that the political fight over stem cell research in Wisconsin effectively ended with his re-election in 2006.

And Doyle, a supporter of Barack Obama, said the political fight could end nationally this year depending on the outcome of the election.

Speaking at the World Stem Cell Summit at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Doyle said he has had to “fight through hostility toward stem cell research in the Legislature,” vetoing bills that would have restricted funding for embryonic stem cells research.

“That political battle never slowed down stem cell research in Wisconsin,” he said. “The battle in political terms is really over in the state.”

Stem cell research was a critical issue in the 2006 gubernatorial election. Doyle’s Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Mark Green, objected to embryonic stem cells research. But Doyle said the people of Wisconsin sided with him on the issue.

“The people of Wisconsin have chosen science over religion and politics and have said to us that they want scientists to go into the laboratories and push forward,” he said.

Doyle acknowledged that there are other battles being fought in other states and nationally. He called on the federal government to end the “politicization that has plagued the” National Institutes of Health.

“We can do this by replacing members of advisory boards that have political and religious agendas, that return to the federal government’s original position of populating these boards based on members’ scientific expertise and knowledge,” he said.

Doyle said it is imperative that funding from the NIH be increased to stem cell banks and research throughout the country, saying it has remained flat since 2002. The next president should rescind the executive order from President Bush restricting funding from the NIH for stem cell research as one of his first acts, Doyle said.

“We need to make sure that whoever the next president of the United States is that that president is going to listen to the voices of the families affected and is going to take the side of science,” Doyle said.

He said science should triumph over personal ideologies, adding, “My state is with science.”

One of the great untruths forwarded during the debate over stem cell research in Wisconsin was that scientists operate outside ethical boundaries, which couldn’t be further from the truth, Doyle said.

“If I could put a challenge out to you in those states where you are still fighting this battle, please let the public know the kind of scrutiny that any research is subject to. … Let the public know that this isn’t some mad group of evil scientists that are operating outside of ethical and moral rules,” Doyle said.

The governor touted the economic benefits of bio-science research, saying there are more than 34,000 people in Wisconsin employed in the industry and it contributes almost $9 billion to the state’s economy.

Doyle downplayed the competition between Wisconsin and other states like California that are vying for top status in the research. While he said he hopes the state can take its investment in the research to another level, Doyle said researchers worldwide can build off the breakthroughs made here, California or elsewhere.

“Stem cell research is not an athletic competition,” he said. “This is about making sure throughout the world we are advancing knowledge and science.”

In a press conference following the address, UW stem cell researcher Jamie Thomson said either presidential candidate would provide a dramatic improvement in attitude toward the research, though he did note that Republican John McCain has “waffled” a bit on his position.

McCain voted in 2006 and 2007 to increase federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, bills that President Bush vetoed. But his campaign Web site says as president he would “strongly support funding for promising research programs, including amniotic fluid and adult stem cell research and other types of scientific study that do not involve the use of human embryos.”

“My hopes are that the politics get out of it. It’s been a long eight years,” Thomson said, adding the worst thing that could happen is McCain is “painted into a political corner” to win the election.

Doyle wasn’t as careful on the political question.

“There may be questions on one candidate, I don’t think there’s any question on Senator Obama’s position on this,” he said.

— By Greg Bump

5:30 p.m.: SE Wis. poll finds residents see potential for stem cell-based cures

A Milwaukee Public Radio poll of southeastern Wisconsin adults showed a large majority agreeing that stem cell research has the potential to lead to new treatments for serious diseases. But at the same time just less than 50 percent favored the use of embryonic stem cells — roughly 89 percent of respondents said they thought at least somewhat important to pursue stem cells that do not come from embryos.

The telephone poll of 398 adults in the seven southeastern counties of Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington, and Waukesha was conducted this month and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Other poll findings, according to Milwaukee Public Radio:

*Just less than a majority of respondents (49.7%) favor the use of embryos in stem cell research, with nearly 40% opposed. About 11% had no opinion on this question. Embryonic stem cell research was opposed by majorities of Catholics, other non-Protestant Christians and respondents who attend religious services once per week or more.

*A majority of respondents (64%) believe that the federal government should remove restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research (20%) or ease the current restrictions (44%) to allow more stem cell research.

See the full poll results

See a press release on the poll from the advocacy group Wisconsin Stem Cell Now

4 p.m.: UW-Madison researcher sees local growth from stem cell industry

“There is no question that these cells might serve as a new area of medicine — human regenerative medicine,” said Dr. Gabriella Cezar, noted UW researcher and chief scientific officer of Stemina, a biotech start-up based in Madison.

“There are 150 people on campus working on stem cell research,” Cezar told a summit audience, “and we’re doing the science to benefit patients.”

Cezar warned that many university programs are competing for the small amount of funds available from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which provides $24 million in stem cell research funds.

“Glaxo SmithKline recently announced it was supporting Harvard University’s stem cell program with a $25 million grant,” Cezar noted. That’s as much as the NIH spends on stem cells in a year, she said, only 0.01 percent of its $28 billion annual budget.

Cezar also addressed the ethical questions that are sometimes raised about embryonic stem cell research.

“We do not take the ethical concerns lightly. We greatly respect the ethical concerns of the research,” Cezar said, adding the cells are derived from embryonic cells originally destined to be discarded, but have grown to serve as the substance of this promising field of scientific research.

“We do research with stem cells with integrity, transparency, and strict conduct,” to demonstrate the value that these cells represent to the scientific community.

She also said it’s still early for marketable uses to be discovered for stem cells.

“It’s been 10 years since stem cells were discovered,” Cezar said, pointing out that “it takes 15 years to get a drug to market.”

This research “benefits Madison because this attracts investment dollars that benefits all of us. This research funding contributes the local economy,” Cezar said.

The future for stem cell-based scientific research is most likely to generate financial success through its capacity for diagnostic uses, she said.

“In the pharmaceutical industry, with millions of chemicals to test, we can use in vitro (laboratory-based) stem cell research to predict the adverse effects of drug trials on humans. The use of human stem cells, heart cells, neuro cells, allows us to do sensitive studies on whether drugs are toxic or not, helping us to determine whether a drug is ready for human trials,” Cezar said.

— By Tracy Will

Noon: U.S. stem cell bank doing brisk business

“We’ve filled 350 orders of cells around the world from the 21 existing cells lines maintained at the U.S. Stem Cell Bank, housed at the UW-Madison,” Derek Hei, the director of the U.S. National Stem Cell Bank, told summit attendees today.

Looking to the future, Hei said “we provide companion cell banks that are ready to go into human trials.”

Hei described the role the stem cell bank plays in assuring the quality and purity of the stem cell lines, including information for researchers that includes ethical uses, donor forms of consent, U.S. manufacturing compliance guidelines, cell testing data, and other standards.

— By Tracy Will

10 a.m.: California breaking ground for stem cell facilities at 9 UC campuses

“Corporate partnerships are critical” to the success of the private-public campaign to invigorate California’s stem cell research infrastructure according to a key player in the California stem cell industry.

“California is building the capacity integral to conduct the basic research and clinical research,” in stem cells, said Alan Trounson, director of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The institute is funded by the 2004 passage of Proposition 71, which provided for $3 billion in stem cell research funding.

Projects are underway at nine campus sites in California, including seven stem cell research labs and two CIRM facilities.

Trounson said one of the goals in the short term is to build up new embryonic stem cell lines and other cell lines once the facilities are built and staffed. The instutute approved $23 million in June to go toward developing new stem cell lines.

— By Tracy Will

9 a.m.: Human trials key to stem cell support, executive says

One of the principal organizers of this year’s World Stem Cell Summit told a crowd of hundreds today that a primary goal of the gathering is to “unite the stem cell community.”

“It struck me as I walked through the fog this morning that we need to get together on this issue in order to lift the fog in Washington,” said Bernard Siegel, executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute. “We need to find out how to get the first human trials started to get the public to support embryonic stem cell research.”

The Genetics Policy Institute is an organizing sponsor of the summit along with WiCell, and the University of Wisconsin Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center.

Siegel said 70 percent of the publics view stem cell research as being a personal health issue.

He said the attendees needed to determine “how to find the stakeholders to organize around this issue. It’s not a top-down situation but one driven by grassroots advocates.”

“Exciting” and “precarious” times are facing stem cell researchers, UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin said in her welcoming comments to the more than 800 summit attendees gathered at Madison’s Alliant Energy Center.

Martin welcomed the international assortment of stem cell researchers by recounting UW-Madison’s history in advancing the scientific advancements that made stem cell research possible. She also said the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health has 60 faculty members working together to advance this field of research.

— By Tracy Will


World Stem Cell Summit comes to Wisconsin

The World Stem Cell Summit is in Madison this year, drawing hundreds of international researchers, venture capitalists and other experts with a series of panel discussions and workshops. The schedule includes addresses from UW-Madison stem cell pioneer James Thomson, former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary and Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and current Gov. Jim Doyle.

Doyle is due to deliver a keynote address at 5:30 p.m. Monday before he receives a “National Leadership Award” from the Genetics Policy Institute at an awards dinner.

Tuesday’s schedule includes the panel discussion featuring former HHS Secretary Thompson — the moderator for that discussion will be UW-Madison’s Alta Charo. Charo will also deliver a keynote presentation that evening on legal, regulatory and ethical issues related to stem cells.

Previewing the event in a recent WisBusiness column, Jennifer Sereno said the summit would show how the stem cell industry “has evolved from the realm of pure science into economic development and consumer advocacy.”

Sereno also quoted organizer Bernard Siegel, executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute, on the value of the summit:

“This is a problem-solving conference, not just an event where commercial panelists recount their own inventions and scientists (review) their own work,” Siegel said. “We want to talk about what are the challenges we face, what are the right business models and what must be done for a stem cell business to flourish. When you bring together this critical mass, with smart people on panels and key stakeholders in the audience, wonderful things can happen.”

The summit kicked off Sunday in Madison with “Lab on the Lake,” a series of free events at UW-Madison’s Pyle Center. The day included a career & education fair, a hands-on stem cell lab experience and several lectures and documentaries from stem cell experts.

More background:
— Commentary: Wisconsin’s private funding of stem cell research bucks coastal models
Gov. Jim Doyle statement welcoming summit to Wisconsin
— Stemina profile: Flourishing Stemina rooted in Wisconsin’s stem cell tradition
— Cellular Dynamics profile: Cellular Dynamics at center of stem cell technology commercialization, Wisconsin’s growing biotechnology sector