After 14 years as governor of Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson made his way to Washington D.C. as Secretary of Health and Human Services. In the past few months, however, Wisconsin has not been far from his mind. Even before the recent praise for stem-cell research in Wisconsin, Thompson often had Wisconsin on his mind.
“[Thompson] points to Wisconsin all the time; he has a great deal of pride to what he accomplished in Wisconsin and points to Wisconsin as a way to succeed,” said Bill Pierce, press secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The stem-cell debate heated up as President Bush considered his decision in regards to federal funding for stem-cell programs. With advice from Thompson, Bush came to the decision that only the 60 currently existing stem-cell lines would receive federal funding.
UW-Madison is heavily involved in stem-cell research. The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation holds the patent for isolating stem cells. UW professor James Thomson first accomplished this technique. As governor, Thompson was heavily involved in the creation of biotechnology jobs in the state and in the promotion of biotechnology research at UW.
“[Thompson] was very supportive of research and biotechnology,” said Brian Kay, UW’s associate director of biotechnology. “He called it the future of Wisconsin’s economy.”
Kay was unaware of the specific nature of Thompson’s support for Thomson’s stem-cell research, but he did note a relationship between the two men.
“[Thompson] was aware of Jamie Thomson’s research, because I remember Jamie telling me that he went to see Thompson in his office to talk about stem-cell research,” Kay said.
Not only was Thomson once invited to the Capitol, but UW director of biotechnology Michael Sussman was asked to tutor Thompson on the issue of stem-cell research.
As governor, Thompson took an active interest in the areas of biotechnology and stem-cell research. Since he is no longer the governor of Wisconsin, however, the support he can offer is limited.
Thompson was thus able to advise Bush on the issue of stem-cell research.
“The decision was the president’s and he made it, but Tommy Thompson was one of his primary advisors, and as that he offered any information the president asked for,” Pierce said.
The biotechnology industry in Wisconsin is a top priority for Governor Scott McCallum as well as former Governor Thompson.
McCallum is less involved in stem-cell research, but still promotes the research at UW.
“The governor is pleased with President Bush’s stance and decision on stem-cell research,” said Debbie Monterrey-Millett, a spokesperson for McCallum. “[McCallum] is proud that right now the research at the University [of Wisconsin-Madison] is groundbreaking and that they are making such discoveries.”
Allowing research to continue in the stem-cell area will draw researchers and businesses to Wisconsin, and Thompson’s continued support in Washington will help make Wisconsin a front runner in the biotechnology field.
Bush’s decision made the cells isolated by Thomson some of the few that will be supported by federal funds. The continued success of Thomson and other UW scientists will work to promote Wisconsin as well as the university.