Madison Wins International Stem Cell Summit

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City Beats New York, D.C. — Scientists, Investors To Attend

MADISON, WI — Wisconsin’s capital city will host an international stem cell research summit this fall, which will bring up to 1,000 of the world’s top researchers, investors and industry representatives to Madison.

The World Stem Cell Summit, to be hosted by WiCell and the University of Wisconsin Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center on Sept. 22 and 23, will mark the 10th anniversary of James Thomson’s isolation of human embryonic stem cells at UW-Madison.

The announcement Wednesday came on the heels of an important patent victory for the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected three challenges to three key embryonic stem cell patents.

Thomson is expected to give a keynote address about his latest breakthrough using human skin cells. Stem cells are thought to hold the promise of treatment for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

This is the fourth meeting of the World Stem Cell Summit. The first three were held at Baylor, Stanford and Harvard universities.

The conference will "attract people interested in the field — scientists, investors and stem cell research advocates," said John Simpson, stem cell project manager for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, Calif., the group that challenged Wisconsin’s patents.

"Wisconsin is a logical place to have it," he said. These meetings "are going to be held in places where life science research is going on."

Gov. Jim Doyle, a major backer of the stem cell industry in Wisconsin, said the summit helps preserve Wisconsin’s place as a leader in stem cell research. He cited work not only at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where ground will
soon be broken on the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery, but also at UW-Milwaukee, the Medical College of Wisconsin and nanotechnology research in the Chippewa Valley.

"In Wisconsin, we are working hard to build innovative centers, to turn research into life-saving treatments in every corner of the state," he said in a news conference.

Doyle said regenerative medicine and stem cell research are expected to be a $500 billion industry over the next 20 years.

"We are at the ground floor of a vastly important field of life science discovery," Doyle said. "Wisconsin will continue leading this promising field, and today I’m happy to announce an opportunity for our state to display our leadership in the world."

Madison beat out New York and Washington, D.C., to host the summit.

The World Stem Cell Summit is sponsored by the Genetics Policy Institute, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the Burrill & Co. Life Science Media Group.

"Wisconsin’s bioscience industry looks forward to the opportunity in September to showcase not just the state’s leadership in stem cell research, but the progress being made by the companies it has spawned and our growing industry more broadly," said Jim Leonhart, executive director of the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association.

Hosting the event gives Madison a chance to gain visibility for the stem cell commitment and infrastructure of WiCell and the state, and show off the state’s vibrant start-up scene, business people said.

"We’ve complained that Wisconsin is a fly-over state for venture capitalists, but this is a way to get them to stop in Wisconsin and take a look," said Mark D. Bugher, director of Madison’s University Research Park and chairman of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

Many universities tout their interdisciplinary research, collaborative environments and state-of-the-art facilities, but UW-Madison can deliver on that kind of talk in a way many others can’t, said John Neis, senior partner at Venture Investors, a Madison-based venture capital firm.

That’s an understanding many of the out-of-state venture capitalists who take tours of the campus and local companies have, as well, Neis said.

"They’re often blown away by what’s happening here," Neis said.

The summit will be held just as the presidential race is in full swing, putting Wisconsin, and the burgeoning field of stem cell research, into the spotlight.

The three possible presidential contenders have supported lifting funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.
Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

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