City seeks to lure stem cell labs

Somerville Journal – By David L. Harris/ Journal Staff

With the encouragement of a little-known stem cell research lab, Somerville’s going all-out in its bid to attract more cutting edge biotech companies.

“The mayor said, ’What, you’re kidding?” said Ann A. Kiessling, the director of Davis Square-based Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation, when she recently told him they exist. “Now’s the time. Everything has now fallen into place.”
Kiessling, a Harvard-affiliated researcher, has maintained the Bedford Foundation’s location on Elm Street, not far from Redbones, Starbucks and The Burren, since 1998. Since 2000, Kiessling and fellow researchers have been successfully replicating monkey, cow and mouse eggs trying to eventually use unfertilized eggs to develop human stem cells.

Ann A. Kiessling, the director of Davis Square-based Bedford Stem Cell Research Foundation, works with mouse stem cells Wedesday morning. (David Gordon photo)

The research, Kiessling said, could eventually be used to cure diabetes or spinal cord injuries.

“We are very well known internationally,” said Kiessling. “We have tried to keep a low profile locally.”

Now she and city officials are a part of Life Sciences Collaborative, a working group of academic, private- and public-sector people that will frame the biotech sector in Somerville. The group will frame guidelines and incentives for the biotech sector.

Mayor Joe Curtatone said Bedford is a “success story right in our backyard” and added the collaborative will herald an industry that so far has been very quiet or nonexistent in the city. Already, the city has convinced biotech behemoth Biogen, which has a research center in Cambridge, to locate a facility on Medford Street.

The Life Sciences Collaborative, which includes Tufts University, the city’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development, members of the city’s legislative delegation and local research institutes and foundations, with the guidance of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, met for the first time last month.

” We don’t want to do this in a vacuum,” said Curtatone.

The collaborative will focus on pooling resources to try to get funding for research. Currently, no federal money can be used for new stem cell research.

” We have such a good location, we have the workforce and the know-how,” said Maria Ortiz Perez, the city’s business development specialist. “We still have very affordable commercial real estate when you compare it to Cambridge and Boston.”

Even though Bedford has kept a very low profile locally, Keissling said the center will expand to keep up with research demands.
” If we want to keep our edge, in the big picture we’re going to need to grow,” she said.

David Harris can be reached at



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