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Commerce Secretary Raimondo tours Manchester labs aimed at mass producing human cells and tissues

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo visits Dean Kamen's latest venture, ARMI, alongside Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.
Todd Bookman
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo visits Dean Kamen's latest venture, ARMI, alongside Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.

During a swing through the Manchester millyard on Friday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo got an up close look at a government-funded project led by Dean Kamen to mass produce human cells and tissues.

Kamen, along with the City of Manchester, successfully applied for a $44 million grant awarded by the U.S. Commerce Department last year to fast track the project and expand workforce development programs for those seeking careers in biotechnology.

Raimondo, who was joined on the tour by New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, as well as Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, said the project caught the eye of the Biden Administration during the grant competition for its potential impact.

“Long story short, we were overwhelmed with interest. We had hundreds of applicants, and you guys rose to the top,” said Raimondo. She added, jokingly, that she “heard a lot from Senator Shaheen, so maybe that had something to do with it? But we will leave that aside.”

Kamen’s venture, the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, or ARMI, was launched in late 2016 with an $80 million award from the U.S. Department of Defense. During Friday’s tour, Kamen talked about the potential impacts of wide scale human tissue development, including the ability to shorten organ transplant times and reduce the impact of debilitating conditions and treatments including dialysis.

ARMI researchers inside of a clean room during Friday's tour.
Todd Bookman/NHPR
ARMI researchers inside of a clean room during Friday's tour.

Raimondo said the endeavor, which its boosters are now calling “Regen Valley,” could help revitalize the region.

“You know you love Manchester, you love New Hampshire,” she said during a panel discussion. “You shouldn’t have to move to get a good job.”

The grant from the Biden Administration as part of the Build Back Better initiative will also fund training programs for people interested in working in biotechnology, and is aimed at boosting the infrastructure for transporting human cells.

Stefany Shaheen, the senator’s daughter, spoke with Raimondo about the potential impact regenerative medicine could have on people with diabetes.

According to tax records, Shaheen was paid $120,000 in the most recently available fiscal year for consulting work with ARMI.

When asked during a press conference if the senator’s advocating on behalf of the project while her daughter is receiving compensation was a potential conflict of interest, Sen. Shaheen dismissed any suggestion of such.

“She’s being paid by ARMI, not by the government,” Shaheen said.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. He can be reached at tbookman@nhpr.org.

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