Stanford receives funding for unique cancer and stem cell biology institute

December 10, 2002

STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford University has received a $12 million commitment from an anonymous donor to establish a new Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, a multi-disciplinary initiative that is believed to be the first of its kind in the country, it was announced today. The institute will bring together basic and clinical scientists in a unified effort that will harness the power of stem cell biology and cancer biology to develop novel treatments for cancer as well as other devastating diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and cardiovascular disease. The institute will be directed by renowned stem cell researcher Irving Weissman, MD, the Karel H. and Avice N. Beekhuis Professor in Cancer Biology.

"This is a major undertaking that will capitalize on Stanford's expertise in stem cell and cancer research. It exemplifies our goal of translating the fruits of laboratory research into therapies that will directly benefit patients," said Philip A. Pizzo, MD, dean of the School of Medicine and a distinguished cancer researcher.

Weissman said research in his lab and elsewhere suggests that in some cancers, such as leukemia, the cancer cells grow and proliferate in much the same way as stem cells. Scientists at the new institute will explore these similarities with the goal of developing powerful new stem cell-based therapies to treat cancer, he said.

"What we're doing is examining these two fields that we thought were separate and looking at the overlap that exists between them," Weissman said.

He said institute scientists also will work to develop a new series of embryonic stem cell lines that will serve as models for a wide range of genetically related diseases including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, allergies and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's disease.

"We want to translate the advances in embryonic stem cell research to create lines that represent genetically determined diseases and make these lines available to investigators who want to understand and treat these diseases," he said.

The institute will build on the long-standing history in stem cell and cancer research at Stanford University School of Medicine. Weissman was the first to isolate blood-forming stem cells in mice in 1988. In 1992, he isolated human blood-forming stem cells. He collaborated with Robert Negrin, MD, professor of medicine, and others in a clinical trial in which purified stem cells were used effectively to treat women with advanced, metastatic breast cancer. More recently, Seung Kim, PhD, assistant professor of developmental biology, and colleagues reported using embryonic stem cells to produce insulin to keep diabetic mice alive, while Judith Shizuru, MD, assistant professor of medicine, has had good results in using stem cells to treat autoimmune disease.

"The Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine will serve as a prototype for Stanford's commitment to form interdisciplinary research programs that bring together scientists and clinicians dedicated to improving the health of children and adults," said Pizzo, the Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Professor at the School of Medicine.

The institute will support existing efforts at the School of Medicine while seeking to attract additional scientists who are internationally recognized in the fields of stem cell and cancer biology, Weissman said. The institute also will spearhead efforts to have Stanford designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute, he added.

The institute's work will be integrated into the educational program of the School of Medicine, allowing students to opt for a five-year medical degree program in cancer and/or stem cell research and training. These trainees ultimately could be the seed for novel cancer and stem cell research and clinical programs around the country, Weissman said.

The institute will have two deputy directors Karl Blume, MD, professor of medicine and former director of the bone marrow transplantation program, who will serve as the clinical investigation director; and a director of scientific affairs who has yet to be named. The institute will be overseen by an executive committee of leading Stanford clinicians and scientists. Stanford also will recruit a medical director for the Clinical Cancer Center now under construction, a facility designed to promote collaboration between clinicians and researchers.

While the initial $12 million commitment will serve as seed money for the institute, Stanford will seek funds from public and private sources to sustain and enhance the endeavor.
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Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. For more information, please visit the Web site of the medical center's Office of Communication & Public Affairs at http://mednews.stanford.edu.

Ruthann Richter
Director of Media Relations
Office of Communication and Public Affairs
Stanford University Medical Center
701 Welch Road, Suite 2207
Palo Alto, Ca. 94306
phone 650-725-8047
fax 650-723-6911

Stanford University Medical Center

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