Stem Cell Research in New York State | NYSTEM

(Complete report available in pdf format - 1.6 MB)

Executive Summary I. Introduction II. Methodology and Scope III. The Potential of stem cell research and NYSTEM IV. Findings V. Observations and Recommendations from the NY stem cell research community

Directory of Principal Investigators (available in the PDF above) An updated directory of stem cell scientists in New York State is now available.

This report summarizes data obtained from responses to written surveys and structured personal interviews with stem cell scientists in New York State between June and October, 2007. The findings are accompanied by a directory of the scientists interviewed. The objectives of this initial inquiry were threefold: (i) identify institutions and scientists in New York State with ongoing stem cell research programs; (ii) develop an overview of the scope and directions of these researchers' activities and (iii) solicit the views of the stem cell science community in New York regarding the potential scope and mechanisms of funding by NYSTEM. Letters were sent to 42 institutions that were identified through publicly available funding and publication records as having relevant research efforts. Overall, from 28 responding institutions we received feedback from 162 principal investigators (PI) at 23 institutions in time for inclusion in this report. The first interviews took place July 20 and the most recent visit was October 4; in this span of 10 weeks we interviewed investigators from 21 institutions representing all geographic areas of the state.

Importantly, this inquiry identified a strong community of stem cell scientists across the state, as judged by publications and external funding, with diverse interests and expertise, who are well positioned to take immediate advantage of the opportunities that will be provided by NYSTEM. Within the limits of our surveys and interviews, we estimate that more than 200 scientists head laboratories conducting stem cell related research, and that roughly two-thirds of these have a major focus in some aspect of stem cell science. Our survey demonstrated that 52% of PIs have NIH funding. Based on an examination of public databases in 2006, the research scientists have attracted $39.5 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for stem cell research, as well as substantial foundation, industry and other types of support for which no comprehensive figures are available. Based on survey responses, their work has resulted in at least 115 patents and 16 licenses. Moreover, we estimate that approximately 1,000 scientists, trainees and support staff are currently employed in their academic and private laboratories conducting stem cell research. The data provide fuel for the need for traineeships. At present, only 58% of PIs have graduate students working on stem cells. The situation is similar but slightly better with postdocs as 67% of PIs report having a postdoc.

Stem cell research in New York is broad in scope and highly collaborative, as about 80% of the investigators reported at least one collaboration. One objective of our inquiry was to ascertain the scope of this research within New York State and determine if there are dominant themes or specific areas of strength. Based on data from 162 scientists, the largest fractions had a focus on cancer, neural disease or aging. Other major topics included hematopoietic and musculoskeletal disease and diabetes. The data also showed that many investigators are engaged in studies of fundamental aspects of stem cell biology. Of the 162 respondents, nearly half reported that their research significantly concerned basic stem cell biology.

The types and sources of stem cells that researchers use in their studies are diverse. The majority of investigators use rodent or other non-human sources to supply stem cells for their research. However, nearly half of the investigators use stem cells of human origin, most of whom employ non-embryonic derived cells of a variety of types: hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cells from marrow and umbilical cord blood, amniotic stem cells, and organ-specific cells derived from skin, cardiac, liver, kidney and other sources. Also included in this list are cancer stem cells. A smaller but still significant fraction of investigators use human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) in their work, or hold approved protocols and plan to use hESCs in the immediate future. Of 39 investigators, 24 reported using only NIH-approved ("registry") hESC lines and 15 reported using "non-registry" lines. Investigators planning to derive new stem cell lines from embryos deemed non-viable, were included in the "non-registry" hESC group. Several of those involved in hESC work were doing so only through collaborations with investigators at other institutions, and only about half of those using hESCs in their work reported that it represented a large fraction of their effort.

In terms of funding preferences, there was strong, but not universal agreement for the use of an investigator-initiated NIH R01-like grant mechanism that would provide substantial funding to individual laboratories for multiple years. Many also favored an additional mechanism of investigator-initiated funding analogous to the NIH R21 vehicle which encourages higher risk with the promise of greater reward. Many interviewees supported institution-based multi-investigator grants in which several researchers at one institution, or investigators at several institutions, collaborate on complementary aspects of a particular research problem. There was considerable support for individual postdoctoral fellowships or young investigator grants as a mechanism for bringing new talent into the stem cell field. Likewise there was considerable enthusiasm for short -term funding for "sabbaticals" in which investigators could visit another laboratory (inside or outside NYS) to acquire specific training in stem cell science or a field that would benefit particular aspects of stem cell research. In contrast, there was little support for institutional training grants, in which graduate students or postdocs are supported en masse, often to work in assigned labs.

It is clear that the area of hESC research has been constrained by inadequate federal support, and that an important focus of NYSTEM should be to enhance opportunities for hESC studies within appropriate ethical guidelines as established by the Board. Concurrent with this opinion, there was unanimity among these researchers that NYSTEM funding should not be restricted to hESC work, since it is unknown at this time which human stem cell types (embryonic or adult) will be best suited for application to particular diseases. Several investigators involved in translational research noted that there is a major gap in available federal funding for pre-clinical studies that move important findings from animal models to human systems. New York State funding for advanced biotechnology core facilities was identified as important by a number of individuals. In particular, researchers working with non-registry hESC indicated that the duplication of equipment required by current federal funding restrictions was a hardship.

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Stem Cell Research in New York State | NYSTEM

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