Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey

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Stem cell lab takes first step Corzine, Reeve kin help break ground

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Star-Ledger Staff

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, joined by relatives of Christopher Reeve, the late "Superman" actor, broke ground yesterday at the site of what is hoped will be a trailblazing center for stem cell science.

The Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey -- Christopher Reeve Pavilion, a $150 million research institute, will occupy five floors of a 16-story University Research Tower in downtown New Brunswick.

"This may be one of the most exciting moments since I've been governor," said Corzine, a staunch supporter of embryonic stem cell research. "This is about humanity writ large." Reeve, a Princeton native who became one of the country's most visible stem cell activists after being paralyzed in an accident, was "truly a Superman," he said.

Barbara Johnson, Reeve's mother, and Tricia Riccio, whose son, Carl, was paralyzed during a wrestling match, shared the dais with Corzine.

Benjamin Reeve, the younger brother of the late star who bears a striking likeness to him, provided the emotional high point.

Addressing an audience that included state legislators, scientists, activists and university leaders, Reeve, an attorney living in Massachusetts, spoke of his brother's struggle with his disability. A continuing wish, he said, is that he could switch places with opponents of stem cell research, if only for a moment, so they could see things from his perspective.

Reeve said he was moved by how the people of New Jersey wanted to fulfill his brother's dream by building a place that could give rise to cures for maladies like spinal cord injuries.

"We appreciate that you 'get it' ... This is exactly what we mean. This is forward," he said, referring to the slogan of both his family and the Summit-based Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, "Move Forward."

Along with many other speakers, Riccio, the event's master of ceremonies, urged passage of the $450 million stem cell bond referendum up for public vote Nov. 6. The money would fund the salaries of the teams of scientists who will conduct the path-breaking work at the New Brunswick center and four other sites.

The choice facing state voters, Riccio said, is a simple one. They can either endorse cutting-edge research or let "the most promising science of our time pass us by," she said.

Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, did not find the speeches or the ceremony uplifting. She is opposed to the bond issue on the grounds that it will support research on embryonic stem cells, which she says is immoral.

"This was a political, partisan pep rally to drum up support to line the pockets of their biotech friends by trying to convince voters to support their deceptive $450 million loan-to-clone scheme," she said.