Research to advance the application of stem cells to address critical injuries and diseases will be taking place at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in a new center funded by New York state and opened (June 22, 2012).
The Rensselaer Center for Stem Cell Research was launched officially by Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson, New York State Department of Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, and Jonathan Dordick, director of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) and the Howard P. Isermann ’42 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering.
They were joined at the ribbon cutting by Glenn Monastersky, CBIS operations director and biomedical engineering professor of practice.
Monastersky is also principal investigator under the $2.45 million grant awarded to fund the new center, from the New York State Stem Cell Science Program (NYSTEM).
“The opening of the Rensselaer Center for Stem Cell Research marks a milestone on the path toward this important area of exploration, which promises so much in terms of alleviating disease and improving health,” said Jackson.
“At the center we will work at the frontiers of this promising discipline in collaboration with New York state and investigators from across the region.
“This research complements stem cell research, sponsored by New York and the National Institutes of Health, that is already in progress at Rensselaer,” Jackson added.
Jackson continued, “Due to our commitment to biotechnology that began over 10 years ago under The Rensselaer Plan, we are able to link engineering with the life and physical sciences in ways that allow us to explore new possibilities. We are grateful to Dr. Shah and the state of New York for their leadership in this important research area, and for providing the funding to launch this center.”
“Governor Cuomo recognizes that stem cell research is a vital and growing industry that helps create jobs here in the Capital Region and around the state,” said Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., New York State Commissioner of Health.
Nirav continued, “Targeting our investment in results-oriented research enterprises like this center will lead to medical advances as well as expand our economy and make New York the place to be for 21st century health and science research.”
According to Dordick, the new center continues to place CBIS and the research conducted there on the leading edge of efforts to harness advances in biotechnology to address 21st century health challenges.
“Ranging from our work on the blood anti-coagulant drug heparin to solutions to fighting some of today’s ‘super bugs’ to important advances in understanding Alzheimer’s disease, we are focusing our efforts on scientific advances that will ultimately open the doors to new cures for traumatic injuries or treatments for long-term conditions and diseases,” Dordick said.
Dordick continued, “Now, working with our partners at New York state and other researchers in the region, we will expand our work on stem cells to help the medical and scientific research communities advance efforts to better understand those cells and how they can be used in medicine.”
Research on stem cells offers promise in an array of health areas, ranging from trying to regenerate damaged nerve cells following spinal cord injuries to offering potential cures for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Type 1 diabetes.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), stem cells are important because - unlike other cells in the human body - they are capable of dividing and renewing themselves for long periods.
In addition, because stem cells are unspecialized - meaning that they are not associated with any tissue-specific functions - early research has shown that under the right circumstances these cells can give rise to cells associated with specific functions, under a process called differentiation.
According to NIH, scientists are just beginning to understand the so-called triggers that can start stem cell differentiation into, for example, nerve, muscle, or bone cells.
The new center is housed on the ground floor of the Rensselaer biotechnology center. In addition to advanced cell biology research equipment, new lab equipment acquired with funding from New York state includes an Olympus VivaView microscopy/incubation system and a Thermo Fisher Arrayscan cell-imaging system that utilizes advanced optics and analytical software to guide the analysis of stem cell development.
The Rensselaer Center for Stem Cell Research and its associated scientific staff, will enable collaborations with several New York partners including the New York Neural Stem Cell Institute, Albany Medical College, the University at Albany, the University of Rochester Medical School, and the Trudeau Institute.
The main focus of the center is the basic science critical to development of stem cell-based therapies for human diseases and traumatic injuries.
“To succeed at the cutting edge of stem cell research, sophisticated shared resources must be available. The center that we have designed, funded by the NYSTEM award, will provide unique and valuable research platforms for stem cell researchers throughout upstate New York. Many basic principles of the biology and regulation of pluripotent stem cells remain to be elucidated and dedicated resources are essential to support research with stem cells, which offer great potential for the discovery of new drugs and life-saving medical therapies,” Monastersky said.
Several researchers at Rensselaer have been involved in stem cell research for some time. For example, Professor Ravi Kane and Associate Professor Deanna Thompson have been working on ways to regenerate nerve tissue.
Dordick has led research on screening toxic molecules, Professor and Biomedical Engineering Department Head Deepak Vashishth has been working on regenerating bone tissue, and Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Ryan Gilbert has worked on providing new materials for spinal cord injuries.
Today’s announcement was followed by a biotechnology public interest forum, during which three leading scientists presented on their research related to stem cells:
•Glenn Monastersky: The Challenges and Promise of Stem Cell Research. He focused on basic stem cell biology and principles, as well as research goals and challenges.
•Associate Professor Deanna Thompson: Neural Progenitor Cell Response to Hemodynamically-Stimulated Endothelial Derived Extracellular Matrix and Soluble Factors. She discussed the development of neural stem cells in response to various signals and factors from the surrounding niche.
•Assistant Professor Ryan Gilbert: Biomaterial Design for Spinal Cord and Stem Cell Therapies. He focused on the application of different types of natural and synthetic materials in the development of stem cell-based spinal cord repair therapies.