$1 million gift supports stem cell renewal research in HSCI’s Blood Program

As regulations on stem cell research and current budget crises stymie stable federal funding of this field, HSCI continues to find that the pioneering spirits of individual donors and private foundations are key ingredients in accelerating its mission. A major grant to HSCI’s Blood Program by The Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund offers evidence that private sponsorship continues to be not only helpful but also critical to the work we trust will bring more effective treatments and cures.

In September 2010, HSCI received a letter from the Fund inviting it to put forward a proposal for research on “unique properties of adult stem cells” that could be used therapeutically. The HSCI Blood Program was a natural fit for such a request. Despite excellent characterization and four decades of clinical use, bone marrow and cord blood transplants benefit less than half of the patients with blood diseases. This is due in part to incomplete understanding of how stem cells self-renew. The HSCI Blood Program seeks to define the mechanism of self-renewal of blood stem cells by identifying molecular targets that turn on or off the self-renewal program. Turning on self-renewal is critical for expanding stem cells to regenerate damaged tissues, and turning off self-renewal is critical for interrupting the cancer stem cell perpetuation of malignancy; controlling both holds vast therapeutic potential.

A few weeks after submitting its proposal, the HSCI was informed that it was one of two finalists. In late January of this year, the HSCI hosted a site visit by the Trustees of the Fund, who toured two of HSCI’s affiliated laboratories and met with the majority of

the Principal Investigators on the proposal to gain clarity on the goals and abilities of this cross-institutional group, which includes researchers from four different Boston-based Harvard-affiliated hospitals. One of the main concerns for the Trustees was whether collaboration was truly possible in the highly competitive world of medical research. The HSCI’s track record of successful collaboration and the rapport of the Blood Program scientists must have convinced them; in February we learned that the HSCI was being given a $1,000,000 grant for the Blood Program’s work on stem cell self-renewal.