Methuselah Foundation, a medical charity based in Springfield, VA, announced today at the World Stem Cell Summit in San Diego the official launch of the $1 million New Organ Liver Prize, a five-year international competition to advance the field of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
There are presently over 120,000 people on the organ wait list in the U.S alone, many of whom will die before finding a compatible donor. Even those fortunate enough to receive an organ in time face ongoing medical difficulties, often for the rest of their lives.
New prospects for whole organ regeneration, engineering, and preservation offer potentially powerful solutions to this health crisis, but tissue engineering research is currently underfunded, receiving less than $500 million annually in the U.S. compared to $5 billion for cancer and $2.8 billion for HIV/AIDS. Neither the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nor the National Science Foundation (NSF), provide significant funding for whole organ tissue engineering, and the field also suffers from difficult regulatory hurdles as well as broader shortfalls in biotechnology investment for pre-clinical research.
Methuselah Foundation CEO David Gobel commented, "Regenerative medicine is the future of health care, but right now the field is falling through the cracks. The New Organ Liver Prize is a celebration of how far we've come in organ transplantation to date, and a rallying flag to mobilize the funding and attention required to take it to the next level."
Bernard Siegel, founder and co-chair of the World Stem Cell Summit and executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute (GPI), said, "Growing a whole, healthy organ is one of the ultimate goals of regenerative medicine. The world stem cell community enthusiastically supports the ambitious aim of the Methuselah Foundation in launching the New Organ Liver Prize and the mobilization of this competitive challenge for researchers to cure disease and alleviate human suffering through tissue engineering."
Prominent doctors and scientists across the field of regenerative medicine have endorsed New Organ, including Dr. Anthony Atala of Wake Forest, Dr. Stephen Badylak of the University of Pittsburgh, and the Founding Fellows of TERMIS (Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society).
"Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering are at the cusp of conquering the final frontier, the fabrication of vital organs to definitively solve the organ donor shortage," said Dr. Joseph Vacanti of Massachusetts General Hospital. "New Organ will help catalyze the efforts to solve the remaining problems to bring this life saving technology to all of the people who desperately need it."
Incentive prizes can be powerful levers for raising the visibility and prestige of scientists working in new areas of research. Prizes have helped launch entire industries in the past, such as the Orteig Prize won by Charles Lindbergh in 1927, which transformed U.S. aviation. They are known for attracting new capital to difficult problems, motivating top minds as well as non-traditional players, accelerating timelines of discovery, forcing regulatory reform, and galvanizing public demand.
Due to the complexity of defining strong competition criteria for each of the solid organs, including the heart, kidney, and lungs, this prize will focus exclusively on tissue engineering solutions that replace the liver. Ultimately, the Methuselah Foundation intends to develop a prize series that covers all of the major solid organs, and spans multiple strategies, including organ regeneration, repair, replacement, and preservation. Through its New Organ Alliance, Methuselah also hopes to mobilize other granting institutions to allocate additional funds in support of teams competing for the prize.