Three Harvard teams to receive $9 million each in federal funding for stem cell research

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Grants are part of one of largest ever federal committments to the burgeoning field

Three teams of Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers are slated to receive $27 million over seven years in National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) grants for the development of stem-cell based tools and treatments to understand and treat cardiovascular and blood disorders.  The NHLBI Progenitor Cell Biology Consortium will consist of nine research hubs, each involving multidiscplinary teams from two academic medical centers.

Eighteen research groups nationwide are receiving $170 million under the program, which is one of the largest single infusion ever of federal funding for stem cell research. Under the Bush administration federal funding for research involving embryonic stem cells was extremely restricted, and this program is the first major financial result of President Obama’s lifting the Bush era restrictions.

HSCI Principal Faculty member Kenneth Chien, MD, PhD, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cardiovascular Research Center will lead a team working to develop stem-cell-based models of cardiovascular and blood disorders in collaboration with another HSCI team led by George Daley, MD, PhD, at Children’s Hospital Boston

A team led by David Scadden, MD, HSCI co-director and director of the MGH Center for Regenerative Medicine will work with investigators led by Jay Schneider, MD, PhD, and Eric Olson, MD, PhD, at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, to examine how the environment in which heart, lung and bone marrow cells develop affects the fate of progenitor cells.  The HSCI-based teams will receive grants totaling approximately $9 million dollars each over seven years.  

“NHLBI is awarding these grants to support the research teams in their quest to provide therapies for cardiac, pulmonary and blood disorders,” said NHLBI Director Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D. “Important gaps remain in our understanding of stem and progenitor cells, and their research holds great promise to expand our knowledge and uncover treatments of great potential public impact.”

Chien’s team includes groups led by HSCI co-director Doug Melton, PhD, and Kevin Kit Parker, PhD, of Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering; and Sean Wu, MD, PhD, of HSCI and MGH’s Cardiovascular Research Center and HSCI.  They will capitalize on the recent discovery of master cardiac stem cells derived from human embryonic stem cells, as both a cardiovascular disease model and for the development of regenerative therapies for heart failure and other disorders.  As part of this collaborative program, Daley’s Childrens Hospital team – including groups led by HSCI Principal Faculty members Stuart Orkin, MD, and Leonard Zon, MD – will develop models of human blood diseases from inducible pluripotent stem cells.

Scadden’s team will investigate the role of mesenchymal cells – immature cells that develop into different types of connective and supportive tissue – in tissue development, with particular attention to how they interact with hematopoietic, cardiovascular and pulmonary progenitor cells.  Better understanding of the microenvironment in which cells develop should help move regenerative medicine from cell-based into tissue-based approaches.  The team includes HSCI Principal Faculty members Carla Kim, PhD, and Amy Wagers, PhD; MGH scientist Charles Lin, PhD, and Todd Golub, MD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to coordinate with the nation’s leading research groups to hasten the delivery of stem-cell based medicine. It represents a very welcome sea change in our government’s investment in this promising area of biotechnology,” said Scadden.

Chien adds, “Over the past decade, there have been exponential advances in human embryonic stem cell biology; but until recently, it was difficult to obtain NIH support for this type of work. This timely and visionary NHLBI program will unlock the scientific and clinical potential of these fundamental advances towards regenerative therapy for heart and blood diseases.”