20 Feb Senior Wisconsin stem-cell researcher leaves for Connecticut
Madison, Wis. — Ren-He Xu, the WiCell Institute’s first employee six years ago and senior scientist there, has been named director of the University of Connecticut’s new human embryonic stem-cell lab.
Xu led the University of Wisconsin-Madison team that last year found out how to make some human stem-cell cultures viable without depending on mouse “feeder” cells to keep them alive.
WiCell is a private lab affiliated with the university and led by James Thomson, whose landmark research on human embryonic stem cells led Xu to come here.
He will start work at the University of Connecticut in April and has a faculty appointment there. He will be putting his experience to work building a new stem-cell program essentially from the ground up. The University of Connecticut will be acquiring human embryonic stem cells from institutions including WiCell and Harvard, according to local media reports, and will be using Xu’s hiring as a selling point in applying for state funding.
“They have many stem-cell researchers … However, they do not have human embryonic stem cell labs,” Xu said. “It is a very big chance and also of course a big challenge for me.”
He said he was originally recruited by a personal friend on the University of Connecticut faculty, then entered talks with university officials on what he could do to develop their stem-cell program. Connecticut was the third state to approve funding for stem-cell research after president George Bush limited banned federal funding for facilities using newly created cell cultures in 2001. $20 million is expected to be available this spring.
Andy Cohn, spokesperson for WiCell and parent organization the Wisconsin Alumni Research Association, said the move was an amicable one and that it might lead to opportunities for WiCell and the University of Connecticut to work together. Xu, he said, is well-respected at WiCell, but Thomson casts a long shadow.
“This is his chance to run his own lab in a tenure-track position,” Cohn said. “It’s a really good thing for him and for us.”
• University of Connecticut: Director named to head human embryonic stem cell lab