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Vol. LXII, No. 7
April 2, 2010

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Stem Cell ‘Game Changer’
NIH Launches Intramural iPS Center

On the front page...

Capitalizing on the unique resources of its Intramural Research Program, NIH will establish an induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) Cell Center, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins announced recently. The new NIH iPS Cell Center, or NiPC, is one of seven new initiatives supported through the NIH Common Fund during fiscal year 2010.

“I’m very excited and think this will really be a game changer at NIH,” said Dr. John O’Shea, NIAMS scientific director and lead coordinator of the work group to implement stem cell translational applications at NIH. “For a variety of reasons, stem cell biology is not as vigorous on the NIH campus as it could be. Nonetheless, there is outstanding work going on presently and we are clearly poised to move ahead quickly. Moreover, NIH has considerable experience with gene therapy, stem cell transplantation and extraordinary patient populations. The environment of the intramural program—long-term stable funding to tackle risky but rewarding projects—is ideal for this work. For all these reasons, an NIH iPS Center seems like a terrific idea.”


  Dr. John O'Shea  
  Dr. John O'Shea  

The iPS Center was one of the first ideas Collins suggested last summer when he met with scientific directors shortly after becoming NIH director.

“Dr. Collins challenged us to consider bold, new trans-NIH projects that would have a potential clinical impact,” O’Shea recalled.

Dr. Michael Gottesman, NIH deputy director for intramural research, noted that “the SDs talked about the possibilities of such a center at their retreat in December when the proposal was enthusiastically green-lighted.” Then, Collins and Gottesman sponsored a workshop that brought together NIH intramural scientists and clinicians with iPS technology pioneer Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and some other world leaders in the field to provide advice. Afterwards, an IRP iPS task force brainstormed a formal pitch for support from the Common Fund. The proposal was approved.

“We will be looking for ‘shovel-ready’ iPS projects that can help the center jumpstart its efforts.”
“During the present year, we will be looking for ‘shovel-ready’ iPS projects that can help the center jumpstart its efforts,” said O’Shea, who will visit Harvard’s Stem Cell Center in April, before touring Yamanaka’s iPS facility this summer. At the same time, the implementation work group is moving ahead to recruit a director for the center. In addition to overseeing NiPC, the director will also maintain a lab where his/her own iPS studies can continue.

“Ideally,” O’Shea said, “this will be an individual with an impressive track record in the area of iPS biology who will be anxious to collaborate with the many outstanding scientists and physicians on campus so that this technology can move ahead quickly and safely to the clinic.”

O’Shea added that “considerable infrastructure” will be required to get the center up and running. In fact, he said, existing facilities on campus such as NIH’s Chemical Genomics Center, the Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases Program under NHGRI and the Clinical Center’s GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) cell processing facility will be employed to quicken NiPC’s initial start-up.

The new iPS Center joins the NIH Stem Cell Unit (SCU), which focuses on research using human embryonic stem cells. SCU is led by Dr. Ron McKay of NINDS. These, teamed with other stem cell initiatives planned or under way, place NIH at the forefront of the relatively uncharted scientific field.

“iPS cell biology is a fast-moving area,” O’Shea explained, “and we don’t know whether human embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells or transdifferentiated cells will be the most useful in various clinical settings. In fact, one might even imagine that it might be different for different clinical scenarios. The fact that it is such a rapidly moving and dynamic field is precisely why NIH scientists should be involved. One thing that is clear is that very careful and comprehensive analysis of these cells will be essential, looking at everything from genetics and epigenetics to function and stability of differentiated cells. This should provide enormous challenges and opportunities for the IRP.” NIHRecord Icon

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