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City of Hope receives contract to take stem cell research from 'bench to clinic'

Pasadena Star News, By Emma Gallegos, Staff Writer, January 21, 2010

Much is discussed these days about the need for "Translational Research", meaning taking laboratory findings and "translating" them into clinical approaches that may be implemented.  Essentially, there is a growing feeling that although significant sums of money have been invested into understanding the molecular and cellular basis of many diseases, this understanding has yet to yield drugs that actually help patients. 

Today the City of Hope took a step closer to translating basic research into treatments with the announcement of a $8.6 million contract that was awarded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).  The contract is based on developing therapies using stem cell research, including adult, embryonic, and inducible pluripotent stem cells.  This contract will enable the City to have the only designated stem cell production center in the United States.

Dr. Larry Couture, the lead investigator for the awarded contract stated "Embryonic stem cells just took a big giant leap into the clinic."  This comment however may be a little optimistic.  The use of any cell therapy approach in patients has to undergo FDA scrutiny, even if it is originating from an academic institution.  The issue with embryonic stem cells appears not to be one of having production facilities, but addressing the FDA's concerns, something with industry giant Geron is still in the process of.   

That being said, numerous adult stem cell approaches have entered the clinic and are yielding promising results for conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis, to heart failure, to liver failure.  Stem cells from the fat, the bone marrow, and cord blood have all been used in clinical trials in the USA.  The establishment of the City of Hope stem cell processing facility will allow for a centralized processing location which will be used by scientists from across the United States.   This will also allow for standardization of protocols and development of uniform systems for evaluation of processing methods as well as therapeutic safety and efficacy. 

"Because the contract is the first of its kind, stem cell researchers all over will turn to City of Hope as they approach the stage when they need human clinical trials," Couture said. "What's cool for us is a large of number of those technologies - regardless of where they come from in the United States or around the world - will all come through our facilities,"

Numerous stem cell processing companies have existed in private industry for years.  One example is General Biotechnology Inc in Indianapolis that processes fat, cord blood, and menstrual blood stem cells.   The advantage of the current approach is that it is an "open access" academic hub that will support experimental efforts of scientists who do not have access to the significant sums of capital needed to develop a cell processing facility that meets FDA requirements. 

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