Director: Kansas stem cell research center needs more money

September 22, 2018 - 11:19 am

A stem cell research facility at the University of Kansas Medical Center needs more money, not more space, according to the center's new director.

Sunil Abhyankar, an oncologist who specializes in blood cancers, was introduced Sept. 17 to the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center Advisory Board as the center's new director.

His predecessor, Buddhadeb Dawn, left earlier this summer to take a job at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He told lawmakers in March that a decision last year to reduce the lab's size from 8,200 square feet to about 3,860 square feet had hurt research efforts.

Abhyankar said the center has enough space for current projects and will consider how to expand into other areas of the hospital if it becomes necessary in the future. But he said it needs more funding, which is not likely to be popular with lawmakers, who have approved about $4 million in state money for the center since it was established, with a commitment to about five more years of funding at about $750,000 a year, The Kansas City Star reported.

The center was created in 2013 by then-Gov. Sam Brownback and conservative legislators who wanted to highlight alternatives to embryonic stem cell research.

State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Republican from Shawnee who led the creation of the center and is on the advisory board, said University of Kansas officials shouldn't expect much more funding, citing other states that have spent millions on similar centers.

"That's what's called throwing money at it and it goes down a dark hole," she said. "We cannot do that in Kansas. We don't have the resources to do it, nor is that the most effective way to get the research we want and need for the patients."

The center does not use embryonic stem cells, which are derived from human embryos, and are controversial because of their origins. Instead, it uses adult stem cells, which are derived from mature tissues and generally can't become other tissues.

The advisory board discussed changing the stem cell's marketing strategy to attract more philanthropic dollars and the likelihood of getting industry money as pharmaceutical companies buy into breakthroughs at the center.

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