Daniela Altimari of The Hartford Courant brings us this story of two Wesleyan Professors who are using stem cell research to find new possible ways to treat epilepsy:
Wedged between UConn and Yale, the powerhouses of stem cell research in the state, two Wesleyan University professors are working to determine whether these building blocks of life can be used to treat epilepsy.
The research being done by Jan Naegele and Laura Grabel involves implanting embryonic stem cells into the brains of mice that experience epileptic seizures.
Few non-scientists understand the complexities of their work. They simply want to know when there will be a cure. Embryonic stem cells, which have the potential to develop into any type of cell in the body, are a promising source of potential treatments for afflictions such as spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.
Naegele and Grabel, like most stem cell researchers, don’t expect their research to lead to immediate treatment therapies. “There’s a real danger of people having their hopes raised,” Grabel cautioned. “The investment needs to be made today, but it’s not going to lead to a cure overnight.”
“I have a kind of long-term mentality,” added Naegele. “We’re going to try and make progress step-by-step.”
The two scientists, whose labs are across the hall from one another at Wesleyan, have taken a significant step forward in recent months: After years of patching together funding, they each received major grants.
Grabel, a professor of biology at Wesleyan, will get $800,000 from the state for her project, one of 21 supported by Connecticut’s $20 million stem cell initiative. While the bulk of that money – about $12 million – will fund research at the University of Connecticut, Wesleyan’s small but vibrant stem cell program also will receive a boost.
“It’s been fun to watch Wesleyan’s profile rise here in the state,” said Grabel, who will participate in StemCONN ’07, a two-day symposium on stem cell research that begins today in Hartford.
Although President Bush vetoed a provision last summer to spend federal money on human embryonic stem cell research, Connecticut and several other states have launched their own programs.
Dr. J. Robert Galvin, the commissioner of the state Department of Public Health and chairman of its stem cell advisory board, said Grabel’s proposal received strong marks from the committee reviewing the proposals. “Wesleyan University is nowhere the size of the University of Connecticut or Yale,” he said. “However, the quality of the work is very high.”