Best in class

A roundup of North America\'s top five academic research institutions in the stem cell arena

Jeffrey Bouley
From People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" toU.S. News and World Report's "BestGraduate Schools" rankings, publications have taken the risk of having jeers directedtheir way for trying to determine the best of anything. But with Frost &Sullivan giving us guidance as to what it sees as the top academic and researchinstitutions doing stem cell work, we got their take of the "best of the best"in various categories.
 
Here, in no particular order, we present the top five inacademia in North America, as chosen by Frost & Sullivan.
 

 
University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Mich.
 
Researchers herework with many different types of stem cells—animal, placental, adult, embryonic,cancer and induced pluripotent (iPS)—but Dr. Eva Feldman, a Russell N. DeJongprofessor of neurology and the director of the Taubman Institute at theUniversity of Michigan (U-M), says the institution is especially strong in itswork with embryonic and neuroprogenitor stem cells, and is now beginning to doextensive work with iPS cell lines.

She describesthe stem cell research budget at the school as "in the tens of millions" andadds, "the University of Michigan has committed $2 million to the TaubmanInstitute's Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies, our core facility for thederivation of embryonic stem cell and iPS cell lines. But there are manyscientists across the university who are also doing vital work with stemcells."


The goals ofU-M's stem cell research are very much translational in nature, seeking to usewhat is learned about the cells in the lab to create new treatments forpatients.


"We use stemcells to study the biology and progression of diseases, such as ALS,Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and others," Feldman says. "We areapplying that knowledge in the field of regenerative medicine, implanting stemcells to protect and restore damaged tissues. We are also studying the biologyof cancer stem cells and developing new therapies to limit their growth.Finally, we use stem cells for drug testing."


Among the keyresearchers for U-M are Feldman herself, who focuses on regenerative medicinein neurological diseases; Dr. Gary Smith, with expertise in human embryonicstem cell derivation; and Dr. Max Wicha, who is well known for his cancer stemcell biology skills.



Wake Forest University School of Medicine
Winston-Salem,N.C.


An importantearly discovery here was identifying the early-stage, organ-specific adult stemcells (progenitor cells) that can be multiplied outside the body and used toengineer functional tissue, which led to the world's first tissue-engineeredorgan—a bladder. Another significant discovery was in 2007, when researchers atthe Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) reportedidentifying a new source of stem cells—the amniotic fluid that surrounds thedeveloping fetus and the placenta, or afterbirth.

The focus ofWake Forest's stem cell work is in developing cell therapies, using stem cellsto engineer tissues and organs and exploring biomaterials or small moleculesthat can be injected or implanted in the body to recruit stem cells to the siteof an injury or damage to promote healing from within.


"The goal of allof our work at the institute is to develop new therapies to improve patients'lives," says Dr. Anthony Atala, director of WFIRM. "Cells are the basis ofregenerative medicine and are vital to what we do."

The institutionworks with most types of stem cells, including those from bone marrow, fat andskin (induced pluripotent stem cells), and also with the amnion-derived cellsdiscovered by WFIRM scientists, says Karen Richardson, Wake Forest's seniorcommunications manager, who says the stem cell budget is approximately $40million a year.


"We continue toexplore new sources of stem cells," she notes. "For example, we recentlydetermined that multipotent stem cells can be routinely isolated from normalhuman urine."



HarvardMedical School

Boston


While Frost& Sullivan singled out the medical school specifically, stem cell researchis more broad than that, handled under the umbrella of the Harvard Stem CellInstitute (HSCI), which Harvard calls the "largest collaborative of its kind …a gathering place for a whole community of scientists and clinical experts instem cell science seeking to bring new treatments to the clinic, and new lifeto patients with a wide range of chronic illnesses."

The HSCIincludes not only various health organizations and departments within theschool, but also the law school, business school, divinity school and others,with the recognition that "stem cell research is a challenge that involvesareas of expertise not encompassed in any one discipline, department or school.Most importantly, basic biology must interface with medical expertise if thepromise of this field is to be fully realized." Harvard describes the approachas a "new business model of a virtual R&D network."

Harvard hasdeveloped a portfolio approach to stem cell-related scientific researchfunding, with seed grants for about 10 early-stage projects per year; corefacilities, which range from shared equipment centers to a drug screening and areprogramming center; and disease programs, which encompass multi-lab programstackling key questions in selected disease areas.
Among theconsiderations in this research area are: the importance of the connectionbetween clinical and basic research that is driven by a real clinical need; theneed for a nonprofit organization to respond to unmet medical needs in marketsthat are too small for companies to address; and the use of Harvard's Centerfor Human Cell Therapy as the coordinating mechanism and leveraged resource forthe HSCI when entering the clinic, negotiating with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA) and planning trials.



City of Hope's Beckman Research Institute

Duarte, Calif.


With suchfacilities and operations as its Center for Biomedicine & Genetics, whichwas designed and built specifically to produce biological molecules and cells—includingstems cells—to federally mandated standards for use as therapies, City of Hopehas drawn in tens of millions of dollars of funding from the CaliforniaInstitute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) and from such organizations as theNational Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), which recently awarded Cityof Hope an $8.6 million contract to facilitate stem cell research fromlaboratory to clinical study—this five-year contract is the first from theNHLBI to focus on development and manufacturing of stem cell therapies.


"Thisprestigious contract recognizes our unique stem cell research and manufacturingcapabilities," said Dr. Michael A. Friedman, president and CEO of City of Hopeand director of the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center at the time of theNHLBI announcement.
 

Notably,Friedman was this year reappointed to a second, six-year term on theIndependent Citizens' Oversight Committee, the governing board for CIRM.
The BeckmanResearch Institute, while highlighted by Frost & Sullivan as a stem cellleader, is not devoted solely to stem cells, though such research informs muchof its work. The first of only five Beckman Research Institutes established byfunding from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the City of Hope instituteis responsible for "fundamentally expanding the world's understanding of howbiology affects diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and diabetes."




University of Southern California

Los Angeles


The Eli andEdythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at theKeck School of Medicine, which is located at the University of SouthernCalifornia (USC), was founded in 2006 with a mission to take discoveries instem cell research "from our laboratories and apply them in therapeutic focusareas founded on outstanding clinical research programs at the Keck School."
Therapeuticareas of interest include ophthalmology, liver disease, diabetes,cardiovascular medicine, oncology and hematology.

In 2010, the center began thenext phase of its program development thanks to a gift from the Eli and EdytheBroad Foundation and funding from CIRM, which resulted in the opening of USC'snew $80 million facility called the Eli & Edythe Broad CIRM Center for StemCell Research & Regenerative Medicine. That facility now houses 11 researchteams and four core laboratories and is envisioned by USC as becoming a hub forthe development of regenerative medicine in the Los Angeles region.


The Eli andEdythe Broad Center's four core labs are: the Stem Cell Core Facility, whichmaintains and distributes quality-controlled stocks of a large number ofembryonic stem cell lines, conducts training in human embryonic stem cellculture and develops and validate new protocols for stem cell growth andmanipulation; the Flow Cytometry Core Laboratory, which provides researcherswith access to instruments that enable them to sort stem cell populations intosubgroups; the Imaging Core Facility, which enables scientists to takehigh-resolution pictures of stem cells to better identify molecules andstructures within cells and to trace the fate of cells as they migrate, divideand differentiate within tissues; and the High Throughput Screening Facility,an operation aimed at discovering small, drug-like molecules that interact tomodulate signaling pathways that control stem cell behavior.
 

 
RELATED STORIES:
 
Staking a claim
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Blazing the trail
Backed by strong venture capital funding,biotechs organize around promise of stem cell research
 
 

ONLINE BONUS:
Tools of the trade
Life science tool providers provideconstant support to ever-evolving stem cell research community 
 


To view all of the content from our three-part series onstem cell research, click here. 

Jeffrey Bouley

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