Researchers Awarded $3.5 Million in NYS Stem Cell Grants

Mar. 26, 2014

stem cellSix scientists from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry have been recommended awards of more than $3.5 million by NYSTEM.  The grants are for a wide range of research programs in the fields of neurological disorders, bone growth and repair, and cancer. 

“The diversity of these awards demonstrates that stem cell biology has become an essential research tool in a wide range of diseases,” said Mark Taubman, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry.  “State investments in stem cell research – both for individual research programs and to create resources such as the Upstate Stem Cell cGMP Facility – has enabled many promising discoveries in this field to continue to move forward.  In many instances, this research may have otherwise stalled for lack of funding support from other sources.”

NYSTEM and the Empire State Stem Cell Board were created in 2008 to provide grants for basic, applied, translational, and other research and development activities that will advance scientific discoveries in the field of stem cell biology.  The state plans to award $600 million over an 11 year period.  Final funding of the awards to the University of Rochester is pending the approval of the New York State Commissioner of Health.   To date, the University has received or been recommended for more than $23 million in grants from NYSTEM.

New University of Rochester awardees recommended by the state include:

  • Wei Hsu, Ph.D. will investigate the use of mesenchymal stem cells to treat craniosynostosis.  The condition is one of the most common birth defect and occurs when growth centers in the skull – know as sutures – prematurely close and change the growth pattern in the skull. 
  • Mark Noble, Ph.D. will investigate new treatments for lysosomal storage disorders, a group of genetic disorders that cause devastating damage to the brain and spinal cord and for which there are no treatments.  Noble and his colleagues have developed detailed cellular and molecular models of several types of these disorders and are using these approaches to discover new properties of existing drugs that enable them to prevent  the toxic activities central to these diseases.
  • Margot Mayer-Proschel, Ph.D. will examine strategies to reactivate stem cells in the central nervous system known as oligodendrocyte precursor cells.  These cells become inactive at the site of lesions created during multiple sclerosis and are unable to produce the cells responsible for creating myelin – the fatty insulation that helps nerve cells communicate and is lost during the disease.  
  • Jianwen Que, Ph.D. will examine the cellular changes in the esophagus that are caused by acid reflux.  These changes, called Barrett’s esophagus, significantly increases risk for developing esophageal cancer.  Que’s findings point to the role of stomach bile which works in concert with inflammation to trigger abnormal activity in the stem cells that line the esophagus. 
  • Lianping Xing, Ph.D. will evaluate the use of a drug currently used to treat lymphoma to determine if it can be repurposed to accelerate bone fracture healing.  The drug blocks the function of a specific protein.  When this drug was used in animal models, the bone forming capacity of stem cells was significantly enhanced.  
  • Yi Zhang, Ph.D. will investigate methods to manipulate the genetic composition of leukemia stem cells to make them more vulnerable to chemotherapy and other potential treatments.  One of the reasons that leukemia is difficult to eradicate is that the cancer stem cells responsible for the disease are resistant to existing therapies.