Robert M. Nerem, Ph.D., professor in mechanical engineering and Todd C. McDevitt, Ph.D., director of the Stem Cell Engineering Center at Georgia Tech, were invited by the lead sponsor, Semahat S. Demir Ph.D. of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to take part in an international assessment of the stem cell engineering field. Nerem will lead the panel and the findings of this study will result in recommendations to the NSF and other funding agencies on future research directions and investments, recommendations on global initiatives with international partners and public workshops.
The study, which is being conducted by the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC), aims to assess the current status and the trends of stem cell engineering, and compare U.S. research and development programs with those abroad. In addition to the NSF, the study is co-sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
“Tech is fortunate to have two out of the six experts on this panel,” Nerem said. “It conveys Georgia Tech's nascent leadership in this relatively new and rapidly growing field and it is a great opportunity to provide input and leadership to our funding agencies and help our government understand where best to invest.”
President Obama, Congress and numerous states have recognized the value of stem cell research. Knowledge of research activities abroad will help to formulate and prioritize research directions to support President Obama's executive order for expanding stem cell research so that it has the greatest potential for clinical and commercial applications.
Dozens of companies have recently entered the stem cell engineering field in search of clinical and commercial applications. There is clear impetus for the U.S. to support stem cell research and continue its leadership in the basic sciences for the betterment of humankind. A Congressional Research Service report on stem cell research, which reviewed the political, moral and ethical issues of the subject, indicated the strengthening interest and economic commitment for stem cell research in the U.S. and the rest of the world.
This study will use WTEC's methodology and an expert panel of six to conduct site visits to overseas laboratories where work in stem cell engineering is done. The panelists began their study in November, when they traveled to China and Japan, and will continue their evaluation this week in Europe. These visits, combined with the panel's own research experiences and assessments, will help shape a report. Like the previous WTEC studies on the tissue engineering and nanotechnology fields, this effort will act as a guide for U.S. research investments in this emerging field and will help identify key issues of critical importance to program officers.
“This is an excellent opportunity to learn what other countries are doing and benchmark against other programs in order to position the U.S. to become leaders in stem cell research and development,” said McDevitt, who is also an associate professor in the Wallace H. Counter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “Manufacturing, clinical trials and commercializing stem cell-based products, if done strategically, is something that could boost our nation’s economy.”
This week the scientists will travel to Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. In addition to Nerem and McDevitt, other panelists include Jeanne Loring, Ph.D., The Scripps Institute; Sean Palecek, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin; David Schaffer, Ph.D., University California at Berkeley; and Peter Zandstra, Ph.D., University of Toronto.