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Helmsley Trust Awards over $15 Million to Salk Institute and Columbia University for Stem Cell Research Collaborative

Mary Jane Salk, John and Anne Codey

Mary Jane Salk, John and Anne Codey

The promise of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells is about to gather significant momentum, thanks to a $15.15 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust that the Salk Institute will share with Columbia University Medical Center. The three-year grant will establish a collaborative program to fast-track the use of iPS cells in order to gain new insight into disease mechanisms and screen for novel therapeutic drugs.

"Stem cell research is of immense importance to the future of biomedical research and will have a major impact in treating and preventing devastating diseases," said Fred H. Gage, a professor in the Salk Laboratory for Genetics and holder of the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Diseases. "The grant from the Helmsley Trust will accelerate and deepen our research efforts in stem cell biology, already an area of strength at the Salk Institute. In addition, this funding allows scientists at the Salk to join forces with outstanding researchers at Columbia University in a synergistic enterprise that will bring stem cell research closer to fulfilling its promise."

The ability to reprogram adult human cells into iPS cells, which by all appearances look and act like embryonic stem cells, creates a unique opportunity to study human disease in revolutionary ways. After taking a few skin cells from patients, researchers can generate iPS cells and differentiate them into the type of tissue where a disease is manifest.

Along with Gage, Salk scientists Inder Verma and Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte will develop a stem cell bank of well-characterized iPS cells derived from patients suffering from debilitating neurological, cardiac and hematological conditions. These cell-based models of disease will allow investigators from both institutions to screen tens of thousands of chemical compounds at Columbia to uncover novel drug therapies for thus-far-untreatable diseases. The grant will create a pipeline of new models and molecules that will start with individual patients and create new avenues back to the clinic.

"The Helmsley Trust is showing great vision by investing in two scientific groups operating at the leading edge of stem cell research," said Salk Institute president William R. Brody. "We are deeply grateful to the trustees and look forward to a very fruitful collaboration with our Columbia University colleagues."