More than 30 stem cell researchers, administrators and industry members from across Michigan met Thursday at the Biomedical Science Research Building to discuss the future of stem cell research in the state.
The event featured stem cell researchers from the University, Michigan State University, Oakland University and Wayne State University, marking the first formal collaboration with multiple research institutions in the state.
At the conference, researchers discussed the progression of stem cell research at the University’s A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies — a center for scientists to develop new stem cell lines that was announced on the same day that President Barack Obama lifted the federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.
Gary Smith, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and co-director of the consortium, said the purpose of the conference was to unite stem cell researchers and industries from across the state.
“The goal is to bring together as many people as we could from different parts of the state, focusing on primarily — in this meeting — universities from across the state and then also some industry representatives from across the state,” Smith said.
Carol Brenner, an associate professor of physiology at Wayne State University, said the conference also enabled stem cell researchers to discuss how to educate the public about stem cell research, which must take place in order for it to progress in the state.
“I think that‘s what also is very important — to educate our graduate students, our undergraduate students (and) students who want to stay in Michigan,” Brenner said.
She added that the education needs to occur at all Michigan universities.
“It needs to take place at all of the universities though, not just in one place,” she said, “because we then, essentially, accelerate our knowledge base through the students so they then teach the next person.”
Researchers from each of the four universities discussed their areas of interest within stem cell research, which ranged from tissue-engineering research to generating skeletal and facial structures to the effects of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine on the brain.
Edward Goldman, an adjunct assistant professor in the University’s department of internal medicine, discussed the ethical, regulatory and legal issues regarding stem cell research in Michigan since the passage of Proposal 2 and Obama’s removal of the ban on embryonic stem cell research.
Goldman said that researchers in Michigan are now able to compete with stem cell research being done in other states.
“We are now on a level playing field with other states,” he said. “It allows us to do the research that we want to do.”
Goldman told the researchers that because Proposal 2 passed by a narrow margin of 52 to 48 percent last November, plenty of opposition to embryonic stem cell research still exists in the state.
He added that it is important for scientists and universities to educate the public about their research and to inform them about the strong regulatory research oversight committee.
Smith echoed Goldman’s words and said that having the Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee, a unified oversight committee for all the research institutions in Michigan, enables scientists to be “on the same page.”
Brenner said the conference proved that stem cell researchers from across the state were collaborating and not competing.
“I don’t feel that we’re competing,” she said. “I think that we’re actually happy that we have each other in many ways.”
The researchers will reconvene in a few months at MSU to hold the second conference.