Connecticut and five other states funded more than $1.25 billion in stem cell research between 2005 and 2009–more than the National Institutes of Health, according to an analysis by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

But the states varied widely in the type of research they funded. Connecticut by far funded the most research using human embryonic stem cells–97 percent of the grants involved the controversial stem cells–while just 21 percent of the grants funded by New York and New Jersey went to projects using them, according to the analysis, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

The state grants, also awarded by California, Illinois and Maryland, allowed scientists to pursue human embryonic stem cell research in spite of restrictions on the work during the Bush administration. The study authors found that only a small percentage of the state-funded research would have been clearly ineligible for federal money under Bush administration policies. But they noted that many grant applications did not specify what type of cells would be used and might also have been deemed ineligible for federal funds.

The article noted that the economic downturn and changes to federal policy allowing funding for more types of stem cell–now under appeal–make the future of state stem cell programs uncertain.

“The analysis here suggests that state stem cell funding programs are sufficiently large and established that simply ending the programs, at least in the absence of substantial investment in the field by other funding sources, could have deleterious effects,” wrote the authors, Ruchir Karmali, Natalie Jones and Aaron Levine. “Such action would fail to capitalize on the initial efforts of scientists who have been drawn to the field of stem cell research by state programs and leave many stem cell scientists suddenly searching for funding to continue their research.”

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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