The program, funded by a $1 million pledge from Coriell trustee Ed Satell, and known as the Satell Program in Stem Cell Science, is focused on three cutting- edge research areas: comparative studies of the developmental capabilities of stem cells from adult and embryonic sources; altering and directing the development of these cells; and strategies for applying the technology to therapeutic purposes.
It is very likely the program will be extended beyond its initial two-year span.
Technion researchers, led by Dr. Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor and including Dr. Karl Skorecki, and Dr. Lior Gepstein, are working with the Coriell Stem Cell Research team, led by Dr. Rick Cohen, and including Dr. David Moscatello and Dr. Biagio Saitta. The two groups are striving to establish an ambitious biology program, using the Technion's embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells from Coriell.
"The goal of the overall program in stem-cell science is to create a powerful new collaboration that will advance the science more quickly than either institution could by itself," said Satell, a Pennsylvania resident active in several philanthropic causes.
"Each institution will gain access to the critical technology of the other," he says. "The burden of genetic disease on families and individuals is so great that we should do this stem-cell research now."
And now is precisely when it's happening – and working well, according to Linda Richman, associate regional director, Eastern Seaboard Region, American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, in Bala Cynwyd.
In Its early stages
However, actual biparty scientific results are still very much in their infancy, explains Ivan Schonfeld, regional director of the American Technion Society, Bala Cynwyd. "At this stage, which is really very early in the collaboration, it's pretty much a matter of handling a great deal of documentation and other paperwork, setting all of that up because each institution wants to be very careful with what happens to the research, with what happens to the results of the research."
If what has happened independently is any measure of what lies ahead as a joint effort, then the collaboration is bound to produce glowing results.
Some Recent Advances
Remarkable science has occurred in a number of areas.
There was a notable advance, for example, related to cardiovascular research by a Technion team with the discovery that heart tissue from human embryonic stem cells can function as a biological pacemaker. To test the cells, they were subsequently transplanted into pig hearts.
"This is an important proof of a concept that heart cells can have the ability to function and integrate within existing cells, and may have important clinical applications," says Gepstein.
Three years ago, the very same team generated contracting heart tissue in the laboratory using human embryotic stem cells. Ongoing research supports the idea that these cells may be able to repair damaged human hearts, and that biological pacemakers may be a possible future alternative to electronic ones.
In addition to these breakthroughs, Technion scientists have demonstrated the ability to grow an infinite number of cells without a feeder layer, which makes them safe for eventual transplantation. They've also developed a novel method for the production of viable and longlived cells derived from human embryonic stem cells, which seem to have the properties of pancreatic islet cells.
Widely recognized as a world leader in embryonic stem-cell research, the Technion is Israel's leading science and technology university, and home to the country's only winners of the Noble Prize in science: Professors Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover won for chemistry in October 2004.
Often referred to as "Israel's MIT," the Technion commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in such areas as nanotechnology (the science of atomic- and molecular-scale devices); computer science; biotechnology; water-resource management; and materials engineering.
It is one of 10 academic institutions and companies in the world – and the only one in Israel – approved by the United States' National Institutes of Health for federally funded research.
Last month, a $7.1 million fundraising campaign to expand the Technion's physical space, and provide graduate fellowships and money for research, was launched in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, the Coriell Institute is an international leader in human cell banking, serving the worldwide scientific community in human cell and DNA distribution and characterization. The institute operates the most comprehensive adult stemcell biology program in New Jersey, including investigations into stem cells of the pancreas, fatty tissue, nervous system, muscle and blood-forming system.
As a cell bank, the institute houses the Coriell Cell Repositories, the world's largest collection of living human cells. Scientists around the globe use either these human cell cultures or the DNA derived from them as the primary resource for multidisciplinary investigations.
"What the collaboration will achieve is to mix and match our techniques, and provide a model for working with adult stem cells, which is Coriell's expertise, and embryonic stem cells from the Technion," says assistant professor Rick I. Cohen, Coriell Institute for Medical Research, and director of the Richard D. Satell Laboratory for Cancer Research.