21 Sep University of Michigan plans major stem cell research center
Madison, Wis. – The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor will create a $10.5 million interdisciplinary center for stem cell biology in a move aimed at bolstering the university’s position in the science.
For federally funded research, University of Michigan researchers use stem cell lines from Wisconsin’s WiCell Research Institute, among others.
The Michigan center will be established with funding provided by the U-M Medical School, the Life Sciences Institute and the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute (MBNI). The center will recruit up to seven faculty whose laboratories will be located in the LSI, the Medical School or in MBNI.
“Stem cell science is one of the most important areas in biomedical research today,” said Mary Sue Coleman, U-M president. “Our commitment to follow the science where it leads is Michigan’s historic strength and research signature,” she added. “As a world scientific leader, U-M is vigorously pursuing this promising area of discovery.”
UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley said the announcement is good news for the science.
“That institutions of the caliber of the University of Michigan are seriously embarking on programs of stem cell research is nothing but good news,” Wiley said. “Stem cell science holds amazing promise. The more we know — and there is much basic research to be done yet — the sooner this technology will begin to pay dividends. Aligning the resources and talent of a University of Michigan in the interest of stem cell research will move the science at a faster pace. We’ll all benefit from the investment they’re making.”
Coleman said that U-M scientists have made “notable advances in many areas of stem cell science, especially involving tissue-specific and cancer stem cells.” The U-M Medical School is home to one of only three NIH-funded human embryonic stem cell research centers in the United States, one of the others being Madison’s WiCell Research Institute and the University of Washington-Seattle/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; three new Exploratory Centers for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research were funded through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in August.
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle last fall outlined a strategy to keep Wisconsin in the forefront of biotechnology – efforts which were to include $750 million in public and private investment and a Wisconsin Center for Discovery on the UW-Madison campus.
WiCell would be part of the new institute, which would be built and financed over 10 years; $50 million in bonding for the project has been authorized. Along with WiCell, the insitute would include specialists in biochemistry, nanotechnology, computer engineering and bioinformatics.
The U-M center’s director, Sean Morrison, is associate professor of internal medicine in the Medical School and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Morrison’s research focuses on blood-forming (or hematopoietic) stem cells that give rise to all blood and immune system cells and on neural crest stem cells that give rise to the peripheral nervous system. In looking at the fundamental biology of stem cells, the center will examine such phenomena as the ability of stem cells to replicate themselves indefinitely, which could provide insight into how cancer cells can do the same thing.
The Morrison laboratory has published several important advances in stem cell biology in recent years. They showed for the first time that stem cells persist throughout adult life in the peripheral nervous system, a discovery that could lead to new treatments for nervous system injuries. They discovered mechanisms that regulate the maintenance of adult stem cells throughout life, an insight that could have implications for regenerative medicine and cancer. Most recently, they discovered new markers that enhance the purification of blood-forming stem cells, an advance that could lead to safer and more effective bone marrow transplants. Morrison was honored with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2003.
“The university-wide commitment to create and support this new research center is a tangible sign of the importance the U-M places on this rapidly developing area of science,” Morrison said. “The more we learn about the fundamental biology of stem cells, the greater the potential for advances in biomedical research and medicine. Bringing scientists from many disciplines together to focus on important questions in stem cell biology is the best way to speed the pace of discovery.”