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Summers Introduces Stem Cell Center

University has yet to announce funding level for new center

By Zachary M. Seward, Crimson Staff Writer

While the University unveiled—with great fanfare Friday—a new center to coordinate its efforts in stem cell research, Harvard officials remained silent over the weekend on the amount of funding the center would receive.

Joe Wrinn, a spokesperson for the University, said Harvard’s commitment to its Stem Cell Institute would be large but that administrators had yet to settle on a dollar figure. And materials hyping the institute were largely mum on financing, which will require private donations in order to sidestep federal regulations on embryonic stem cell research.

At the institute’s inaugural symposium in the Charles Hotel on Friday, University President Lawrence H. Summers delivered an emphatic endorsement of the institute and said stem cell research ought be a priority of the University.

“Stem cell lines represent a central research tool for the 21st century,” he said.

But Summers did not mention any specific financial commitment or fundraising goal, leaving unclear the extent to which the institute would be able to benefit already existing stem cell research programs at Harvard.

At the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), there is already concern over possible budget deficits in the current fiscal year and sluggish fundraising returns through the end of February.

Harvard Medical School and FAS will shoulder most of the financial burden of the institute, while the School of Public Health and other Harvard graduate schools will play more minor roles.

The University said one donor, Howard A. Heffron, had already given $5 million to found the institute and other foundations and private donors had contributed as well. But it was unclear how much those donations amounted to or how extensive the campaign to fund the institute would be.

Associate Professor of Medicine David T. Scadden, who will co-direct the institute, said Friday that the University was actively in search of donations.

Asked at the symposium about the institute’s funding, Scadden said, “I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say today had something to do with that.”

The institute will rely on private donations rather than government grants in order to avoid regulations, imposed by President Bush’s administration, which restrict human embryonic stem cell research to previously existing stem cell lines.

“There has been an abdication of national responsibility in this area,” Summers said Friday in his remarks, vowing to forge ahead with research despite White House impediments.

Stem cells have excited scientists for their potential to grow into specialized tissue cells and possibly cure degenerative diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s. Stem cells drawn from human embryos, the most controversial and most promising variety, can develop into any human cell.

Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences Douglas A. Melton, co-director with Scadden, said the institute would examine the ethical issues surrounding stem cell research.

“This work is controversial, and we don’t plan to sidestep that controversy,” Melton said.

The symposium on Friday morning featured remarks from Bass Professor of Government Michael J. Sandel—teacher of the popular course, Moral Reasoning 22, “Justice”—who defended human embryonic stem cell research on moral grounds but warned of its close relationship to human cloning. Sandel, a member of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, has opposed human cloning.

The financial ambiguity in the launch of the Stem Cell Institute stood in contrast to Harvard’s announcement last June of the Broad Institute, which administrators quickly publicized as a $200-million joint venture with MIT to study the human genome. But the Broad Institute was founded on an original donation of $100 million, far more than the Stem Cell Institute’s $5-million founding donation.

That $5 million appears to have been distributed among the participating schools in the institute, with $1.3 million going to FAS, according to an internal document obtained by The Crimson.

—Staff writer Zachary M. Seward can be reached at seward@fas.harvard.edu.

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