Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Stem cells hold potential for medicine, economy, Feldman tells Detroit Economic Club

U-M to begin accepting donated embryos for stem cell research >>

As Michigan struggles to find its way out of economic distress, stem cell research has the potential of leading the state into a more prosperous future, in addition to being one of the most important medical breakthroughs in a generation.

That was the message of Dr. Eva Feldman, director of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute at the Medical School, as she addressed the Detroit Economic Club meeting on Tuesday.

Feldman also announced that the new Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies at U-M would be accepting embryo donations for the first time, according to careful guidelines spelled out by government and university regulations.

Also there for the announcement and to address media were Sue O'Shea, the Crosby-Kahn Collegiate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and professor of cell and developmental biology, and Gary Smith, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology and of urology. O’Shea and Smith are co-directors of the Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies.

In addition, Feldman told the overflow crowd that a bill currently before the Legislature that would place restrictions on stem cell research is a step backward for the state and for medical science.

In November 2008, voters in the state of Michigan approved a constitutional amendment lifting restrictions on embryonic stem cell research in the state. For the first time, medical scientists in Michigan could derive embryonic stem cell lines, an important tool in finding new treatments and cures for a wide range of diseases.

Feldman described the major strides that have been made in the past year in Michigan, as a result of the vote.

“Michigan went from being one of the five states which prohibited this kind of research,” said Feldman, “to being at the very forefront of stem cell science.

“This work has incredible potential for both curing disease and rejuvenating an ailing economy.”

Feldman explained how stem cells have the unique ability to reproduce themselves indefinitely and to develop into any tissue type in the human body. For this reason, they offer unprecedented applications in the fields of regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, drug testing and other technologies that scientists have not even dreamed of yet.

Stem cell research also offers unique opportunities for economic growth in the life science sector, which has demonstrated remarkable vitality while the rest of the Michigan economy has languished in recession.

Citing a recent study by Wayne State University, Feldman explained that stem cell research has the potential to create nearly 4,000 new jobs, add $80 million per year to the state’s payrolls, while saving Michigan $80 million per year in health care costs.

The university long has been a leader in medical research. Through November, the school had received $211 million in stimulus funding awards. It has received $99.9 million in stimulus funding from the National Institutes of Health. Nearly $7 million has been earmarked for stem cell research.

A. Alfred Taubman, founder and chair of the Taubman Institute, introduced Feldman. He, too, cited the promise of stem cell research in the economic realm.

“I’m convinced it is one of our best opportunities to attract investments, create jobs and emerge from this recession with a revitalized economy.”

Taubman and Feldman touched upon legislation that has been introduced in the Legislature that would once again restrict stem cell research.

Taubman said if the legislation succeeds, it would place huge roadblocks in the way of progress.

“Michigan will once again be seen as a state unfriendly to science. The jobs, the talent and the cures will go elsewhere.

“We can’t let that happen.”