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Updated 10:00 AM June 8, 2009

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U-M brings together stem cell researchers from four universities

More than a dozen stem cell researchers from U-M, Wayne State University, Michigan State University and Oakland University met with industry representatives from around the state Thursday to brainstorm ways to work more closely together.

Collaboration among universities is key, the researchers agreed, if Michigan is to speed promising stem cell discoveries from the state's laboratories down the path toward therapies for patients.

The meeting, sponsored by the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, was a chance for scientists to learn about each other's work and to hear the viewpoints of life sciences industry representatives and venture capitalists.

The 34-member group plans to meet again in a few months at MSU.

Thursday's meeting at the Biomedical Science Research Building saw inter-university collaborations sprout, adding to ones already begun, such as work between Carol Brenner, co-director of Wayne State's Peri-Implantation Development Laboratory, and Sue O'Shea, co-director of the new A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies.

The consortium, launched at U-M in March, is the first major embryonic stem cell research program in Michigan since the Nov. 4 passage of a state constitutional amendment allowing scientists to create new stem cell lines using surplus embryos from fertility clinics.

Brenner, O'Shea and Gary Smith, co-director of the U-M consortium, spoke with reporters after the meeting, along with Michigan State physiology professor Jose Cibelli, who directs the MSU Cellular Reprogramming Laboratory.

Cibelli said that the stem cell discoveries the group hopes to accelerate aren't likely to translate into a short-term boost to the state's ailing economy. The benefit will be "strong intellectual properties (patents) that can sustain Michigan," he said.

Also attending the event was G. Rasul Chaudhry, an Oakland University professor of biological sciences involved in tissue engineering research using embryonic stem cells and cord-blood stem cells.

The researchers discussed such possibilities as sharing efforts to educate students in stem cell research, joint ways to seek funding in addition to federal funds, and a joint oversight committee for human pluripotent stem cell research in the state, rather than separate ones for each institution.

"That way, as a state, we would all be on the same page," Smith said.

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