Stem cell research at Weill Cornell, The Rockefeller University, and Sloan-Kettering

05/23/05

Background Information

In 2005, Weill Medical College of Cornell University launched a new stem cell center, the Ansary Center for Stem Cell Therapeutics, to focus on finding ways to boost the growth of adult stem cells for therapeutic purposes. Among Weill Cornell's pioneering contributions to stem cell biology are the discovery of vascular stem cells in the adult bone marrow that can contribute to wound healing and blood vessel growth in tumors, and the discovery of a specific type of fetal stem cell that can co-differentiate simultaneously into both muscle and blood vessel cells. One of Weill Cornell's most distinctive resources is its in vitro fertilization (IVF) laboratory, which features state-of-the-art reproductive biology focused on the basic science and clinical aspects of human embryonic stem cells. Blastocysts formed in the course of infertility treatment are an indispensable resource for establishing stable stem cell lines, and Weill Cornell plans to launch a facility to develop and maintain the appropriate embryonic stem cells for research. Weill Cornell's Belfer Gene Therapy Core Facility and its soon-to-be-opened Gene Therapy Clinical Trials Unit will be vital assets in the translation of basic stem cell biology into clinical medicine.

The Rockefeller University is widely recognized as a center of innovation in basic research to improve the scientific understanding of the biology of stem cells. Rockefeller scientists provided the first description of "stemness" in humans, the complete genetic overview that documents the ability of embryonic stem cells to self-renew and generate all cell types of the body; isolated stem cells from the skin of a mouse, and showed, for the first time, that an individual stem cell can renew itself in the laboratory and then be used in grafts to produce skin, hair and oil glands; and initiated experiments aimed at increasing the numbers and/or potency of insulin-producing cells that arise from laboratory cultures of mouse embryonic stem cells. Six of the university's 75 laboratories now conduct basic research with embryonic, neuronal and skin stem cells derived from laboratory mice, laboratory cultures of human adult skin stem cells, and human embryonic stem cells. Human embryonic stem cell research at Rockefeller uses cell lines from the National Institutes of Health registry, as well as non-registry cell lines. With support from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, Rockefeller University scientists are creating new human embryonic stem cell lines that will be accessible to other researchers. In 2004, a generous endowment grant from New York City philanthropist Harriet Heilbrunn enabled Rockefeller University to establish the Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Center for Stem Cell Research. Stem cell investigations at Rockefeller are also supported by gifts from Trustees, Rockefeller University Council members, and other donors to the University's volunteer-initiated Stem Cell Research Fund.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) is a pioneer in the research and use of hematopoietic stem cells to treat blood-related disorders, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma - an area that provides the only current example of stem cell therapy in routine practice. MSKCC investigators were the first to propose umbilical cord blood as a source of stem cells suitable for transplanting, and the first to identify human mesenchymal stem cells in bone marrow. Highly promising work today includes studies aimed at identifying and characterizing cancer stem cells in multiple forms of disease. Other research is currently underway to delineate how neural and embryonic stem cells develop into specialized neurons of the brain and nervous system. MSKCC investigators are engaged in studies ranging from the use of embryonic stem cells to repair damage caused by radiation treatment for brain tumors to the development of cell-based therapeutic strategies targeting Parkinson's disease. Within one laboratory at MSKCC, researchers have assembled, with private support, one of the largest existing collections of human embryonic stem cell lines, including those registered by the federal government and others that are not.

In addition to the individual projects now underway at each institution, several laboratories from across the three campuses are engaged in a wide scope of productive research collaborations. This approach continues to generate fresh insights into stem cells and their functions.

Other Support from The Starr Foundation for the three institutions:

  • The Greenberg Family and The Starr Foundation have supported the missions of Weill Medical College of Cornell University and New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center for more than 25 years. In 1997, the Hospital opened the Maurice R. and Corinne P. Greenberg Pavilion, a 776-bed inpatient facility, named in recognition of the Greenbergs' longstanding leadership as well as their support of the construction of the building. Other notable gifts include a generous contribution to the Medical College's capital campaign that is earmarked for Weill Cornell's new ambulatory care and medical education building on York Avenue. Additionally, the Greenbergs and The Starr Foundation have made significant contributions to the Medical College and Hospital for its Division of Cardiology; Genetic Medicine Program; neurological surgery programs; molecular neuropharmacology laboratory; C.V. Starr Biomedical Information Center; C.V. Starr Pavilion, an outpatient facility; Division of Geriatrics; endowed student scholarship; and for a joint program with The Rockefeller University to study hepatitis C, among other programs.

  • Since 1992, the Greenberg Family and The Starr Foundation have provided generous support for basic and clinical research programs at The Rockefeller University. This support includes grants creating and sustaining the Starr Center for Human Genetics; major funding for The Rockefeller University Hospital; and grants to establish and support the Maurice R. and Corinne P. Greenberg Center for the Study of Hepatitis C, a collaborative research and clinical effort of Rockefeller, Weill Cornell, and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, co-directed by Greenberg Professor Charles Rice.

  • Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center received a gift from The Starr Foundation in 2004 for the construction of 21 new surgical suites, which are scheduled to open in Memorial Hospital on York Avenue later this year.

    Tri-Institutional Collaboration:

    The three institutions involved in the new Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative have undertaken previous successful collaborations. In 1991, for example, they created a tri-institutional MD-PhD program, funded through the National Institutes of Health, which is one of the most highly rated training programs of its kind in the country. In 2000, The Rockefeller University, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Cornell University and its Weill Medical College developed, with a $160 million investment, a collaborative, interdisciplinary program in basic biological research, which includes joint faculty appointments and shared graduate programs in chemical biology as well as in computational biology and medicine.

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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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