29 Sep Double header for research dollars from Washington
Wisconsin has just scored a rare double-header – with two research grants coming over the transom almost at once.
The WiCell Research Institute (WiCell), a non-profit subsidiary of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation(WARF), has received a three-year, $1.7 million grant further the study of human embryonic stem cells.
The grant – and the designation as one of three Exploratory Centers for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research come from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
The funds will allow WiCell to provide cell-culture support to scientists studying human embryonic stem cells at WiCell and UW-Madison. The grant will also help fund three pilot projects to study questions in basic biology that are important for further stem cell discoveries.
But while The University of Wisconsin is a leader in landing federal research grants – nailing down $391 million and ranking 16th in the nation – the state lags when it comes to the landing of federal research dollars by private companies. According to Tom Hefty – co-chair of Gov. Jim Doyle’s Alfalight Inc., a maker of high-powered diode lasers, received a $4.6 million contract in an appropriations bill passed by Congress. According to a company release, this comes on top of a $5 million federal grant received earlier in the week for laser research.
“I am very impressed with the incredible work done at Alfalight,” said Rep. Tammy Baldwin. “During budget deliberations, I was happy to help cement this exciting new federal-private partnership with a firm in our community.”
The company started in 1998 using technology developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Reed Center of Photonics.
Hefty and a WiCell representative said signs are positive that the research being conducted in stem cell research will — like research at the Reed Center of Photonics — soon spin off into private sector ventures.
According to WiCell spokesperson Andy Cohn, companies are already inquiring about locating near the University to be near the action.
“The team that Wisconsin has put together is recognized as a leader,” Cohn said. “Companies interested in licensing or working with us – it is just a matter of time before some of these companies decide to open up an office here. We have had some inquiries but nothing has opened at this point.”
Cohn said the lure of locating in Madison would have more to do with being near the people involved in research as opposed to logistics or easy access to the stem cells themselves.
“When we provide cells to others for research purposes, they are frozen and shipped on dry ice,” Cohn said. “The reason someone would locate here is to collaborate with some of the best stem cell researchers.”
According to Hefty, stem cell research and biotech in general are on the radar screen of venture capitalists nationwide.
“There are a number of venture capital firms that are beginning to commit investments in that sector,” Hefty said. “The hope is to cure diseases and improve the quality of life – and hopefully, those efforts will come together here in Wisconsin.”
Charles Rathmann is a freelance writer and contributor to Wisconsin Technology Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.