Columbia University launches multi-year campaign to support stem cell researc

Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) has announced that it is halfway toward realizing the first phase of a multi-year campaign to build upon the university’s groundbreaking stem cell research and lead the effort to fully realize the therapeutic potential of stem cells. 

Of the $50 million goal for the first stage of the campaign, $25 million has been raised from the private sector, specifically for diabetes and neural stem cell research. 

Columbia University Medical Center researchers are at the forefront of an extraordinary movement to revolutionize medical approaches to therapeutics through its Stem Cell Initiative.  Columbia’s leadership in developmental biology, neuroscience research, transplantation, and cell replacement therapy uniquely positions the university to push stem cell research forward, and more than 40 CUMC researchers are currently conducting leading stem cell studies. 

“This initiative will provide our researchers with the resources necessary to fully realize the potential of stem cells,” said Gerald D. Fischbach, M.D., executive vice president of Columbia University Medical Center and dean of the faculty of medicine at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Columbia continues to be a leader in this revolutionary health technology that holds the promise to benefit people suffering from a wide variety of debilitating health problems.”

Federal restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research funding and lagging state funds have limited available government support for this emerging and promising research, prompting CUMC to reach out to the private sector with this crucial stem cell initiative. 

CUMC researchers are currently exploring the vast potential of stem cells to treat a wide range of illnesses, including Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), diabetes, pancreatic cancer, leukemia, stroke and other diseases of the nervous system, liver, eye, skin, and heart.  Beyond replacement therapy, the use of stem cells as a research tool will lead to new insights regarding mechanisms that control the onset and progression of disease.  Stem cells will also be useful as targets in drug discovery.  Current stem cell research projects at CUMC include:

  • Examining the development, function and survival of dopamine neurons, which are lost in patients with Parkinson’s disease, focusing on developing replacement cells or a model for investigation of genetic forms of the disease

  • Developing an experimental procedure that expands the use of umbilical cord blood in transplantation for childhood leukemia and solid tumor patients

  • Implanting stem cells that turn into insulin-producing cells to fight the growing epidemic of diabetes

  • Studying the biology of stem cells that produce new neurons in the normal adult mammalian brain as a key to understanding brain repair and neural pathologies.

  • Developing potential new cancer remedies

“In the last several years scientists have managed to unlock many of the secrets behind stem cells and their remarkable ability to develop into different kinds of cells, but there is still much to learn,” said Asa Abeliovich, M.D., Ph.D., whose research is focused on developing stem cells to replace dopamine neurons lost in Parkinson’s disease or models to mimic the degeneration process.  “The resources provided by Columbia’s stem cell initiative will help us answer those questions and translate this research into practical applications for many our most devastating diseases.”

The initial $50 million for the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative will enable Columbia to outfit a new stem cell center, construct a state-of-the-art facility to produce cells for experimental and therapeutic use, and establish a separate laboratory dedicated to growing new human embryonic stem cells for new studies.  It will also support the recruitment and retention of internationally renowned stem cell biologists and establish endowments for professorships for Columbia’s stem cell physicians and scientists as well as scholarships for doctoral candidates and post-doctoral fellows focused on stem cell studies.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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