Upstate News

March 10, 2009
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

SUNY Upstate Medical University receives $6.2 million to expand stem cell research

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — SUNY Upstate Medical University has been awarded two grants totaling $6.2 million to expand and strengthen its stem cell research program and support its studies into how stem cells may be used to fight leukemia.

The grants from the New York Stem Cell Board will significantly raise the stature of SUNY Upstate’s stem cell research program putting it on peer with some of the foremost stem cell research centers in the world, officials say.

“These grant monies will elevate the stature of our stem cell research program by establishing a flagship, world-class Humanized SCID Mouse Center and Stem Cell Processing Lab with state-of-the-art capabilities that will attract collaborative interests from both academic and biotech and pharmaceutical researchers worldwide, to perform studies that can only be performed in a unique facility such at SUNY Upstate Medical University,” said Gerold Feuer, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology and director of the lab. “These grants will serve as a nucleus to attract scientific interest to Upstate New York and to develop new high-paying positions for scientific technicians, molecular biologists and will be instrumental in recruiting world-class biological scientists to Upstate Medical University and the surrounding academic communities.”

The larger of the two grants at $5.13 million over four years will pay for renovating, expanding and equipping the Center for Humanized SCID Mouse Center and Stem Cell Processing Laboratory at SUNY Upstate. The increase in size, from 900 square feet to 3,500 square feet, will enable more researchers to use the lab and house more state-of-the art equipment. This is the largest grant of its kind ever awarded to the center the SCID Mouse Center, which was established in 1997.

SCID (severe combined immune deficient) mice are genetically engineered mice that lack immune systems. Without their own immune systems, the mice can accept transplants of human hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) that then mature and develop into all components of the human immune system, generating “humanized” SCID mice. Thus, they are vital for research into human viral infections, cancer stem cell biology and in translational development of anti-viral drugs and therapies for treating hematological disorders, scientists say.

“There is a pressing need to develop new mouse models for human diseases and basic understanding of human stem cell biology,” Feuer said. “This lab expansion will increase our current capacity to generate and study these mice, enabling SUNY Upstate to collaborate more substantially with other academic research institutions, biotech companies and pharmaceutical investigators.”

Stem cell research at SUNY Upstate is focused primarily on developing a “humanized” mouse model to study the initiation and progression of leukemia induced by human viruses, specifically Adult T cell leukemia, Burkitt’s lymphoma and primary effusion lymphoma. Other models of infection and disease to be studied in humanized mice include the chicken pox virus, malaria, hemorrhagic and encephalitic viruses, and Kaposi’s Sarcoma herpes virus.

The second grant of $1.07 million over three years was awarded to Feuer to further his research into leukemia. The grant “HTLV Infection of Human Hematopoietic Stem Cells: Induction of Novel Lymphoma in Humanized SCID Mice,” involves determining how viruses target and infect stem cells to initiate leukemia development in human stem cells. This process can be modeled using SCID mice.

The grant from the New York Stem Cell Board (NYSTEM) is the third piece of significant funding SUNY Upstate’s stem cell research program has received in the past 12 months. Last January the university received $200,000 from an Institutional Development Grant from NYSTEM for the purchase of a high-end imaging system for the lab. That grant came on the heels of a $250,000 commitment from the university to hire additional staff and renovate lab space for the purpose of expanding stem cell research.

“Those working to find cures for many medical conditions that cause misery today, know that much hope lies with our ability to do the best stem cell research possible,” said Steven Goodman, Ph.D., SUNY Upstate vice president for research and dean of the College of Graduate Studies. “We have made a commitment to move this research forward and our progress is celebrated with this new funding.”

SUNY Upstate conducts more than $40 million dollars in funded research.