University of Pittsburgh Receives Two NIH Grants for Novel Stem Cell Research

Scientists at the University of Piitsburgh have announced today the awarding by NIH (the National Institutes of Health) of two separate grants totalling more than $5 million. One of the grants is for the study of embryonic stem cell differentiation, while the other is for investigating a new method of growing adult stem cells on lymph nodes.

Specifically, the $2.9 million, five-year "Transformative R01" grant was awarded to Dr. Eric Lagasse, professor of pathology at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine and a researcher at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Funding from T-R01 has been designated for the study of a novel method of "using the body’s many lymph nodes as sites for growing replacement cells for other tissues and organs, in essence using them as bioreactors to grow cells within the living body," as described in the press release.

The second grant, in the amount of $2.2 million and entitled "New Innovator", has been awarded to Dr. Ipsita Banerjee, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and Pitt and also a researcher at McGowan. Funding from Dr. Banerjee’s "New Innovator" award has been designated to study exactly which chemical and molecular signals are involved in determining how embryonic stem cells differentiate.

As Dr. Lagasse explained, "Our regenerative medicine approach for healing damaged tissues and organs might not have moved forward without this new grant concept. This funding supports assessment and rapid translation from the bench to the bedside of nontraditional treatments."

As Dr. Banerjee added, "I want to take a completely different approach to addressing the complex process of cell development, which will potentially advance our understanding of regenerative medicine and stem cell bioengineering as a whole."

The two grants were presented as part of the 2009 NIH "Director’s High-Risk Research Awards", which are a cluster of five-year grants awarded by NIH. This year’s cluster of 115 grants constitute $348 million in total, which include 42 separate T-R01 Awards, 18 separate "Pioneer Awards", and 55 separate "New Innovator Awards" for early-stage investigators.

As described in the press release, "This marks the inaugural year for the T-R01 grants, which support innovative and high-risk projects that could profoundly impact biomedical research and medical treatment, and also is a record year for the number of New Innovator and Pioneer Awards bestowed. Fellow New Innovator and T-R01 recipients include researchers from the Cleveland Clinic, Columbia University, Duke University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania."

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