Campus & Community

Stem Cell Institute awards first seed grants

4 min read

(Twelve scientists receive $1.8 million)

The Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) has selected 12 young scientists working in a wide range of research to be its first seed grant recipients.

Each grant recipient will receive $150,000 over a two-year period. The grants will support research aimed at advancing the understanding of stem cell biology and developing new therapeutic approaches to several diseases, among them cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, muscle disease, Parkinson’s disease, and retinal blindness. Five of the 12 projects will involve human embryonic stem cells, including using or creating new stem cell lines that are not eligible for federal funding.

The purpose of the seed grant program is to provide early funding for innovative projects in any field of stem cell research. The awards put particular emphasis on projects that might be difficult to fund from other sources either because a project is considered to be “high risk/high payoff,” or because the research is ineligible for federal funding under the current federal restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research. Also, the grants are meant to encourage the participation of talented younger scientists in stem cell research.

Of the 12 recipients, eight are untenured faculty members, one is a Harvard Fellow, and two are postdocs working with senior faculty sponsors; only one is a tenured faculty member. In keeping with the Stem Cell Institute’s Harvard-wide mandate, the grants will go to no less than eight different institutions within the Harvard community: four to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), two to the Joslin Diabetes Center, and one each to researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School (HMS), Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences, McLean Hospital, and the Schepens Eye Research Institute.

The 12 grant winners were chosen from 70 applications following review by a multi-institutional committee chaired by David G. Nathan Professor of Pediatrics Stuart Orkin, chairman, Department of Pediatric Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The funding for the seed grants comes from private philanthropic donations.

The Harvard Stem Cell Institute was established in April 2004. Its mission is to advance understanding of stem cells and their applications to human health. To this end the institute will support basic, translational, or clinical work in any field of stem cell biology at any institution within the Harvard system.

The first HSCI seed grant recipients, their institutional affiliations, and the titles of their research proposals are as follows:

Nabeel Bardeesy, assistant professor of genetics, HMS and MGH; “The pancreatic adenocarcinoma cell of origin.”

Dong Feng Chen, assistant professor, HMS and Schepens Eye Research Institute; “Repairing retinal disease and damage by neural stem/progenitor cell transplantation.”

Alan Davidson, assistant professor, HMS and MGH; “Molecular genetic studies of blood and kidney formation in zebra fish.”

Kevin Eggan, junior fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows; Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology; “Derivation of Parkinson’s disease-specific human ES cell lines.”

Niels Geijsen, instructor of medicine, HMS and MGH; “In vitro germ cell development and epigenetic reprogramming using human and murine ES cells.”

Rohit Kulkarni, assistant professor of medicine, HMS and Joslin Diabetes Center; “Identification of beta cell growth factor.”

Jeannie Lee, professor of genetics and pathology, HMS and MGH; “Analysis of X chromosome inactivation in human ES cells.”

M. William Lensch, research fellow; Children’s Hospital Boston; “The analysis of complex genetic syndromes using disease specific human ES cell lines.”

Craig Micchelli, postdoctoral fellow, HMS; “Progenitor cells in the adult Drosophila gut: understanding tissue renewal in endoderm lineages.”

Hanna Mikkola, instructor in medicine, HMS and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; “Placenta as a niche for hematopoietic stem cell development.”

Rosario Sanchez Pernaute, assistant professor in neurology, HMS and McLean Hospital; “Characterization, transplantation, and functional analysis of dopamine neuronal precursors derived from primate and human ES cells.”

Amy Wagers, assistant professor of pathology, HMS and Joslin Diabetes Center; “Biology and function of adult skeletal muscle precursor cells.”