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NHLBI awards $170 million to fund stem cell research

BETHESDA, Md.— The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded $170 million to be paid over seven years to 18 teams of research scientists to develop the high-potential field of stem and progenitor cell tools and therapies.  
The awards create the NHLBI Progenitor Cell Biology Consortium, which will bring together researchers from the heart, lung, blood, and technology research fields. A seven-year project, the consortium assembles nine research hubs with multidisciplinary teams of principal investigators and an administrative coordinating center to focus on progenitor cell biology.  
While a stem cell can renew itself indefinitely or differentiate, a progenitor cell can only divide a limited number of times and is often more limited than a stem cell in the kinds of cells it can become. Given the potential of these cells for clinical applications, the goals of the consortium are to identify and characterize progenitor cell lines, direct the differentiation of stem and progenitor cells to desired cell fates, and develop new clinical strategies to address the unique challenges presented by the transplantation of these cells.
"NHLBI is committed to stimulating stem cell research that will lead to the development of regenerative therapies for the treatment of heart, lung, and blood diseases," said NHLBI Director Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel in a statement. "Important gaps remain in our understanding of stem and progenitor cells, and this consortium holds great promise to expand our knowledge and uncover therapeutic applications of great public impact."  
The consortium's hubs—along with their participating institutions, principal investigators and missions—include:  
  • Dr. James Thomson of The University of Wisconsin, Madison and Dr. Daniel Garry of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities are expected to provide a basic understanding of the hierarchy of cardiovascular precursor cells, stem cells that have developed to the stage where they are committed to forming a particular kind of blood cell. They will also research the molecular events leading to the formation of blood-forming cells and stem cells as a prerequisite to therapeutic applications.

  • Dr. Mortimer Poncz of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle will study the specialization of blood-forming cell lines, develop molecular interventions that will drive the formation of blood cells toward desired lines, and establish new, functional platelets that potentially may be used for the targeted delivery of bioactive proteins.

  • Dr. Alan Friedman of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., and Dr. John Cooke of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., will focus on the safe reprogramming and differentiation of adult cells to blood-forming cell lines for eventual application to blood or vascular disorders.

  • Dr. Robert Robbins of Stanford University and Dr. Deepak Srivastava of the J. David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco plan to produce usable and reliable induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), artificially derived stem cells can give rise to any fetal or adult cell type that can be used for cell therapy in the heart. 

  • Dr. Antonis Hatzopoulos of Vanderbilt University in Nashville will study cardiac stem cells whose biological properties are poorly understood and investigate how disease affects their usefulness for therapeutic applications. 

  • Drs. Mark Krasnow and Irving Weissman of Stanford University will focus on identifying and characterizing progenitor cells involved in healthy lung and blood development that ultimately may be used in addressing disease or injured states.

  • Dr. Irwin Bernstein of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Dr. Edward Morrisey of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia will endeavor to determine how certain signaling pathways affect cardiac and blood-forming cell development and cardiac regeneration and repair. The team will also study whether these pathways may be harnessed for therapeutic applications.

  • Dr. Jay Schneider of the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center in Dallas and Dr. David Scadden of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston will seek to examine how the microenvironment within heart, lung, and bone marrow controls progenitor cell fate and study progenitor cell types in the cardiac and pulmonary contexts.

  • Dr. George Daley of the Children's Hospital in Boston and Dr. Kenneth Chien of Massachusetts General Hospital hope to advance regenerative therapy of cardiac and blood disorders by developing iPSC models of human disease technology.
The consortium's administrative coordinating center will be led by Dr. Michael Terrin at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. The center will administer funds to support cores, pilot studies, and ancillary and collaborative studies. The consortium will be presented at NIH's upcoming International Symposium on Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine Oct. 14-15 at NIH's campus in Bethesda, Md.



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