The Starr Foundation is continuing its longstanding commitment to stem cell research in New York City with a $50 million gift in support of the Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative (Tri-SCI), a research collaboration between Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medicine.
The new gift reaffirms the foundation’s support and enhances collaborative, pioneering stem cell research at the three adjacent biomedical research institutions.
The gift brings to $150 million The Starr Foundation’s total support for Tri-SCI, which was established in 2005 through a $50 million gift from the foundation. The foundation renewed its support in 2012 with a $50 million gift.
The Starr Foundation’s gift supports competitive grants for stem cell research. Tri-SCI laboratories investigate the properties of three kinds of stem cells: embryonic stem cells, which have the potential to differentiate into any cell type in the body; adult stem cells, which are found in various tissues and can give rise to specific cell types; and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), adult cells reprogrammed to an embryonic stem-cell-like state.
The studies are opening new avenues for understanding a range of health conditions, including developmental disorders, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. The knowledge gained through this research is also laying the groundwork for the design of regenerative therapies to replenish tissues lost to illness or injury.
“We have seen remarkable progress in our understanding of stem cell biology in the 14 years since we launched this initiative,” said Maurice R. Greenberg, chairman of The Starr Foundation’s Board of Directors. “I am pleased that The Starr Foundation can continue its support of this important field of research and help translate the many exciting developments that have emerged from this collaborative effort into potential treatments for patients.”
Based in New York City, The Starr Foundation has long supported medical research, health care, human needs and educational programs in the city, as well as cultural institutions and public policy projects relating to international relations. Of the nearly $3.5 billion in grants made by the foundation since 1955, more than two-thirds have gone to New York-based institutions.
“The Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative has conducted innovative studies and, due to this collaborative venture, we have seen many promising developments in medicine,” said Dr. Craig Thompson, president and CEO of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “All of us at Memorial Sloan Kettering are grateful to have the support from The Starr Foundation so we can continue studying some of the world’s most challenging diseases.”
“Stem cells are a potent avenue of innovation in bioscience and Rockefeller researchers funded by Tri-SCI have made important contributions over the last decade, including the identification of molecular events that trigger stem cells to differentiate into specific tissue types,” said Dr. Richard P. Lifton, president of The Rockefeller University. “These discoveries, which would not be possible without the support of The Starr Foundation, are leading to new therapies for a range of neurodegenerative and other disorders.”
“We are profoundly appreciative of The Starr Foundation’s continued generosity and support of stem cell research,” said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine and provost for medical affairs of Cornell University. “The foundation’s commitment to collaborative research ensures that our three institutions have the resources to move fundamental discoveries made at the lab bench into the clinic.”
Under Tri-SCI, investigators work across institutional and disciplinary boundaries to advance scientific understanding in a rapidly expanding field of biomedicine. Tri-SCI funds technology development, seminars and symposia to foster intellectual exchange and fellowships to train the next generation of stem cell researchers.
The Starr Foundation’s 2005 and 2012 gifts to establish and expand Tri-SCI have funded the collaborative research of 86 investigators at Memorial Sloan Kettering, The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medicine. These investigators conduct innovative studies aimed at some of the world's most daunting health challenges, including Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, seizure disorders, peripheral nerve damage, skin disorders, diabetes, blood clotting disorders, stroke, vascular disease, wound healing and early embryonic development.
Joseph Bonner is a freelance writer for Weill Cornell Medicine.