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Foundation gives $10M to Duke for stem cell research

Posted March 18, 2010

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— The Robertson Foundation has given $10.2 million to Duke University to create a state-of-the-art Translational Cell Therapy Center, officials said Thursday.

Dr. Victor Dzau, Duke's chancellor for health affairs and chief executive of the Duke University Health System, said the center would advance the university's pioneering cell therapy research and treatment programs for children and adults with cancer, cerebral palsy, stroke and brain injuries suffered at birth. Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg and her research team have spent decades investigating the therapeutic use of umbilical cord blood stem cells, he said.

“The emerging field of regenerative medicine has great promise, and this generous gift will accelerate the pace of Dr. Kurtzberg’s and other Duke scientists’ world-renowned, translational work in cell therapies,” Dzau said in a statement. “The creation of the TCTC will support the work of many Duke researchers exploring various applications of cell-based therapies.”

Kurtzberg is director of Duke’s Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and director of the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, which she established in 1996 with support from the National Institutes of Health and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The cord blood bank is one of the largest such facilities in the world, currently storing about 27,000 units.

Umbilical cord blood stem cells, normally discarded after birth, have the ability to grow and develop into various types of cells throughout the body. They can be harvested after birth and stored for future transplant in patients with many types of blood disorders, and increasingly, other diseases as well.

“Dr. Kurtzberg’s research reflects the kind of transformational science that has the potential to change the lives of thousands of people throughout the country and around the world,” Julian Robertson, of the Robertson Foundation, said in a statement.

Robertson founded Tiger Management, one of the earliest hedge funds, and now is active in philanthropy. He recently donated several works to the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Part of the gift to Duke will be used to build a special laboratory where therapeutic cells will be made and stored. The lab will follow strict guidelines set by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to ensure the highest degree of safety and quality.

“This gift comes at such an important time because it will enable us to move forward with the first placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial in children with (cerebral palsy) that has been specifically designed to answer key questions about the efficacy of cord blood treatments in children with this condition,” Kurtzberg said in a statement.

Over time, she said, the gift also will allow studies of cord blood stem cell transplants in certain newborns with congenital heart disease, studies of cord blood-derived cells in certain children with genetically-acquired neurodegenerative diseases and studies to determine the value of using cord blood or bone marrow cells in adults with stroke or brain injury resulting from radiation to treat brain cancer.

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  • coffeecup Mar 18, 2010

    MEP, what grade did you get in 10th grade Biology? I mean the first time you took it?

  • John Sawtooth Mar 18, 2010

    The nice thing is that these stem cells come from a source that is not even part of any ethical debate (whichever side we make prefer). Thus valuable research occurs without any of the time-wasting fight over a fuzzy issue. There are a lot of other issues which could benefit from this strategy.

    Every once in a while someone gets practical - it's nice to see.

  • nuncvendetta Mar 18, 2010

    MEP is probably a UNC fan. No reading comprehension skills and quick to rail against Duke.

  • lilymae Mar 18, 2010

    MEP, where did you read in this article that this money if for EMBRYONIC stem cell research? The piece clearly states "the therapeutic use of umbilical cord blood stem cells." Umbilical cord stem cells are collected from the umbilical cords "after birth," again as the article states. These cells are usually discarded (not collected from embryos). They are invaluable in the search for cures and treatments of many, many childhood and adult diseases from cerebral palsy to stroke.

  • mep Mar 18, 2010

    I personally have been successfully treated using adult stem cells.... the ONLY stem cells that actually cure people. I'm just saying IF embryonic stem cell research were worth investing in, the private sector worldwide would be dumping billions of dollars in to it. But they are not... they know it is a pipe-dream. As for killing, a majority of Americans feel life begins at conception. Just saying.

  • Deep Thought Mar 18, 2010

    It's always interesting that anti-stem cell research folks yell and scream until it looks like the research might help them or a loved one.

    People won't read the entire article but go ahead and start screaming again stem cell research. Ya gotta luv em.

  • smcallah Mar 18, 2010

    No one is killing babies to get embryonic stem cells.

    They are collected from fetuses aborted for different reasons.

    No one is paying mothers to get pregnant and then abort for stem cell research.

    Stop your fear mongering.

  • mep Mar 18, 2010

    Nice to see no babies are being killed for this research.
    Many folks believe embryonic stem cells are the key. When in fact over the decades of research, not a single therapy has ever been developed using them. THAT is why researchers overseas have pretty much stopped using them. But there are plenty of researchers right here in the US willing to use our tax money to continue killing and further "chase the impossible dream".

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Mar 18, 2010

    Bracing for all of the so-called "less government" people...telling us how government needs to mandate & control the behavior of scientists...and the rest of us, for that matter....