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About Us

Welcome to the Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative (Tri-SCI) website.

The Tri-SCI is a collaborative program of three New York City biomedical research institutions—Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), The Rockefeller University (Rockefeller), and Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC).

This initiative was established with a $50 million gift from The Starr Foundation. The goals of this program are several-fold:

Research in Progress at the Tri-Institutions

Studies currently underway in laboratories on the Tri-I campuses are generating new insights into basic stem cell biology and exploring the translational potential of stem cells in human disease.

A brief sampling of this work attests to the breadth of stem cell research and the exciting promise it holds:

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) is a pioneer in the use of hematopoietic stem cells to treat blood-related disorders such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, leading the way in an area that provides the only current example of stem cell therapy in practice. MSKCC investigators were the first to propose umbilical cord blood as a source of stem cells suitable for transplanting, and were the first to identify human mesenchymal stem cells in bone marrow; this legacy of accomplishment endures today through a range of initiatives in hematology. Other highly promising research includes studies aimed at characterizing cancer stem cells in multiple forms of the disease, including breast and ovarian cancer, acute and chronic leukemia, and multiple myeloma—an essential step toward developing precisely targeted therapies. Also underway is an ambitious effort to understand how neural and embryonic stem cells develop into the specialized neurons of the brain and nervous system. In a clear sign of the extent to which stem cell research transcends narrow specialization, investigators are engaged in studies ranging from the use of embryonic stem cells to repair damage caused by radiation treatment for brain tumors to the development of cell therapeutic strategies targeting Parkinson’s disease. In connection with the latter, one laboratory at MSKCC has assembled, with private support, one of the largest existing collections of human embryonic stem cell lines, both registered and non-registered.

The Rockefeller University (Rockefeller) is widely recognized as a center of innovation in research on embryonic stem cells. Rockefeller scientists introduced the first reliable culture method to maintain human embryonic stem cells in a pluripotent state without the use of mouse-derived “feeder cells” in the culture medium. Previously, the risk of contamination by mouse materials had hampered clinical research on human embryonic stem cells. With the new growth-medium compound, contamination risks are minimized and possibilities for tissue regeneration therapy are greatly enhanced. Rockefeller scientists also produced the first inventory of genes that are expressed in human embryonic stem cells. This molecular signature of “stemness” provides a valuable roadmap for researchers studying cell differentiation as it applies to human development and a variety of clinical disorders. Several laboratories at Rockefeller are studying embryonic and adult stem cells to gain a better understanding of the causes of diabetes, skin diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases, including age-related vision disorders. One group is devising methods to “de-program” mature somatic cells to make them more like embryonic stem cells. This challenging initiative can shed new light on the normal course of development and cell specialization, and could aid in the development of autologous tissue replacement therapies.

Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC) has signaled its strong commitment to stem cell research through the establishment of the Ansary Center for Stem Cell Therapeutics, funded by a $15 million grant from Shahla and Hushang Ansary. The Center focuses on finding ways to boost the growth of adult stem cells—for example, to generate large quantities of a patient’s own cells for therapy, or for use in delivering therapeutic “payloads” of genetically modified stem cells directly to the appropriate target. The Center builds on a long tradition of achievement at WCMC, including the discovery of vascular stem cells in adult bone marrow that aid in the creation of new blood vessels; such cells contribute to wound healing and the regeneration of organs on the one hand, and to the formation of blood vessels to feed certain tumors on the other. WCMC is fortunate to possess a community of investigators who contribute to stem cell research in many different areas. Its physicians treat patients in a wide variety of clinical areas in which stem cell therapy may be applied, from cardiac regeneration after heart attack to brain recovery after stroke to wound healing in severe burns. One of Weill Cornell’s most distinctive resources is its in vitro fertilization (IVF) laboratory, which features state-of-the art reproductive biology focused on the basic science and clinical aspects of human embryonic stem cells.

Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative Governance

The Tri-SCI’s governance structure is designed to ensure the close coordination of activities undertaken as part of this program. The committees described below represent the decision-making bodies that have guided the multiple components of this initiative since it was established in 2005.

Executive Committee

The Tri-SCI Executive Committee is composed of members drawn from the Tri-Institutional senior leadership. This committee is responsible for the overall direction of the program and meets periodically to review progress and strategic goals, in accordance with the initiative’s mission.

Steering Committee

The Tri-SCI Steering Committee provides guidance to the Tri-SCI Executive Committee on the range of programs and activities supported by the Starr gift, including the development of the proposals for the three major core resources that support Tri-I stem cell scientists, the framework of the RFAs that are distributed to all faculty on the Tri-I campuses calling for proposals in the broad range of stem cell biology; make recommendations for support of lectures, seminars and external conferences; and provide guidance on the creation of the Tri-I Starr Scholars Fellowship program. The composition of the committee includes Tri-I faculty with robust stem cell research programs.

Tri-SCI ESCRO Committee

Recognizing the need for scientific and ethical oversight of human stem cell research projects, the Tri-SCI established an Embryonic Stem Cell Oversight Committee (ESCRO) to provide review and approval for all human embryonic stem cell research conducted at the three institutions. The Tri-SCI ESCRO committee is guided by the National Academy of Sciences published recommendations on Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. No research involving the use of human embryonic stem cells can be initiated on the Tri-I campuses until ESCRO approval is received. The committee is composed of members from the Tri-I faculty and external representatives with legal and ethical expertise. In addition, there are individuals who serve as representatives from the public.

The Tri-SCI ESCRO was cited in the February 2007 amendments to the National Academy of Sciences Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research as an example of a multi-institutional approach to ESCRO review (www.nap.edu/catalog/11871.html).

Additional information about the Tri-SCI ESCRO is available to Tri-I faculty and staff at the following intranet site: www.trisci.org.

Administration

The Tri- Institutional Stem Cell Initiative is administered through the office of the Executive Director of the Tri-Institutional Research Program, Kathleen E. Pickering. Contact information: Tel. 212-746-6049; email: kap2013@med.cornell.edu.