Stem cell research in New York City receives pivotal boost from The Starr Foundation

05/23/05

New tri-institutional collaboration aimed at realizing the potential of stem cell research

NEW YORK, May 23, 2005 - Three New York City biomedical research institutions-The Rockefeller University, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC)-will receive $50 million over three years from The Starr Foundation to develop new resources and expertise in stem cell research. The new Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative builds on the already existing strong research ties among the three organizations as well as on the scientific strengths each organization currently brings to stem cell-related research. Of the total gift, $10 million already has been awarded.

The gift will enable the three institutions to retain and attract outstanding scientists; train future leaders in stem cell research; and develop shared facilities necessary to derive new stem cell lines and to expand and maintain existing cell lines for use by scientists. Emphasis will be placed on collaborative studies bringing stem cell researchers together with colleagues from other fields including neuroscience, cell cycle research, toxicology, chemistry, and physics.

The Starr Foundation, based in New York City, has long supported medical research, healthcare, and educational programs in New York City, as well as cultural endeavors such as museums and public policy projects relating to international relations. With this gift to establish the Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative, The Starr Foundation, in its 50th anniversary year, reached the $1 billion mark in grants to New York City-based organizations.

"Over the years, a significant percentage of our grants has gone to the City's finest research institutions because we want to ensure that New York City remains one of the greatest centers of medical and scientific research in the world," said Maurice Greenberg, Chairman of the Board of The Starr Foundation. "Now these three pioneering institutions-a world class medical school, a leading biomedical research institution, and a premier cancer research center-can join together and break new ground at this exciting scientific frontier."

"We envision a thriving community of scientists on these three contiguous campuses creating a major hub of stem cell research in the country," said Mr. Greenberg, who is also Chairman Emeritus of New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College's Board of Overseers and a Trustee Emeritus at The Rockefeller University. "It is particularly exciting when three of the City's premier institutions collaborate on research of this importance," he added.

The Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative will seek to decipher the molecular codes ultimately responsible for human cellular diversity and eventually use this understanding to design cell-based therapies. By including human embryonic stem cells (both those registered by the federal government and those that are not) along with adult stem cells and stem cells from cancers and experimental animals, the Initiative will help ensure that scientists have access to the most appropriate, robust cell line for any particular study. This broad approach will make it possible for researchers to explore the biological significance of stem cells and to compare the relative merits of all types of cell lines in terms of their function and therapeutic potential.

While the study of many types of stem cells is still in its infancy, greater understanding of their capacity and of how to direct their activity allows scientists considerable potential to develop new regenerative treatments that would deploy the body's own ability for growth and repair against a range of conditions such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.

"Bringing together the complementary strengths of our three institutions will ensure that we continue to pursue the highest quality research and use the knowledge we gain for the betterment of human health," said Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College and Provost for Medical Affairs of Cornell University. "One of Weill Cornell's most distinctive resources is our in vitro fertilization laboratory," said Dr. Gotto, "and now, with this farsighted gift, we will be able to develop and maintain stem cells for research and ultimately for translation into clinical medicine."

"This generous financial commitment from The Starr Foundation will allow our three institutions to move ahead decisively and together on many important fronts in stem cell research, fields of study that hold great promise for understanding normal human development and for providing insights into treatment of an array of diseases, including cancer," said Harold Varmus, President of MSKCC. "Given the novel and evolving nature of some types of stem cell research, the governance of the Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative will include the establishment of an oversight board, as recently recommended by the National Academy of Sciences with regard to research involving human embryonic stem cells," said Varmus.

"The Starr Foundation gift will help us to gain a better understanding of the basic biology of stem cells and mechanisms of disease, crucial steps that must be taken before these cells can be developed into human therapies, " said Paul Nurse, President of The Rockefeller University. "The new initiative will greatly enhance Rockefeller's ongoing collaborative work with MSKCC and Weill Cornell researchers to pursue these objectives," he said.

The newly funded Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative will focus initially on the following areas:

  • Basic and Clinical Stem Cell Research Projects--Emphasis will be on studies that bring stem cell researchers together with colleagues from other fields, including toxicology, neuroscience, cell cycle research, chemistry, and physics, at any of the three institutions. The Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative will also provide a crucial source of private support for research that cannot now be funded through government sources, as well as augment grants for stem cell research from the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies.

  • Innovative Collaboration in Stem Cell Biology--In order to build a broad, fully integrated community of stem cell researchers from all three institutions, funds will be earmarked to support collaborative efforts. This funding will promote joint ventures among researchers and the regular exchange of ideas.

  • Graduate and Postdoctoral Training--The Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative will provide fellowship support to outstanding postdoctoral candidates pursuing advanced research related to adult or embryonic stem cells in any of the laboratories of the three institutions and to PhD and Tri-Institutional MD-PhD students engaged in relevant studies.

  • Shared Stem Cell Facilities--These will include laboratories to be utilized by scientists from all three institutions, with activities ranging from the derivation of new stem cell lines to microarray analysis and bioimaging.

    The Starr Foundation was established in 1955 by Cornelius Vander Starr, the founder of the American International family of insurance and financial services companies, now known as American International Group, Inc. (AIG).

    It makes grants in a number of areas, including education, medicine and healthcare, public policy, human needs, culture, and the environment. Maurice R. Greenberg has served as Chairman of the Starr Foundation since 1981.

    Source: Eurekalert & others

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