Stem Cell Program

2015 Stem Cell Award programs announced.  On April 1, two new award programs were announced for HGINJ-Stem Cell Program members.  A Stem Cell Pilot Service Award can provide services from RUCDR Infinite Biologics to help researchers prepare preliminary results for upcoming grant submissions.  Service awards may consist of iPSC reprogramming from source human cells or gene expression assays by microarray or RNAseq.  The deadline for the Service award is April 25.  A Stem Cell Distribution Award provides either primary human MSC or control iPSC lines to program members.  The Distribution award is open throughout the year.

The Stem Cell Program (HGINJ-SCP) was formed in 2014 as the successor to the New Jersey Stem Cell Institute.  Membership is open to all researchers at Rutgers as well as all New Jersey institutions.  The availability of stem cells, particularly those prepared from human subjects with known disorders, has revolutionized the ability to model disease mechanisms in living human tissues and it suggests that regenerative medicine will become a valuable component of modern medicine.

The first pluripotent human stem cells, derived from embryonic tissue, were only described in 1988.  While there has been much controversy about the use of embryonic stem cells, much was learned from them, including the key proteins that could reprogram an adult cell into a pluripotent stem cell.  This process led to the description of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) in 2007.  Since this time, there has been an explosion in the availability and use of these adult-derived stem cells.  Our researchers, working with the NIMH Stem Cell Center at RUCDR Infinite Biologics®, have created over 300 iPSC cell lines.

iPSC researchers within HGINJ-SCP are focused on disorders of the central nervous system.  Prior to the advent of stem cells, brain tissues were difficult or impossible to obtain from donors with specific diseases.  Now, starting with a skin biopsy or a blood sample, iPSC can be prepared and grown into mature cell types including neurons.  Several groups have prepared iPSC from individuals with mental health disorders including schizophrenia, autism, Tourette’s, and addiction disorders.  Others study neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s and Ataxia-telangiectasia.  In most cases, the work is focused on discovering disease mechanisms in differentiated neurons prepared from iPSC.  By understanding cellular processes that are affected by disease, it is possible to design therapies.  Ultimately, disease-specific human iPSC can be used for drug screening to speed the transition from research to medicine. 

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), also known as multipotent stromal cells or bone marrow-derived stem cells, are derived from adult bone marrow.  As bone marrow transplants have been widely used for over 30 years, this type of stem cell is often cited as an example of therapeutic adult stem cells.  In addition to its more common role in supporting cells that reconstitute the blood-forming and immune systems, MSC can be induced to produce a variety of cell types including those found in bone, cartilage, and fat tissue.  There are many reports that MSC are effective in promoting improvement in cardiac diseases, central nervous system injuries, and lung disorders.  MSC researchers at Rutgers are working on bioengineering/biomaterials solutions to aid in the delivery of therapy using these cells.  Other groups are studying their use in promoting injury repair and regenerative therapy. 

The HGINJ Stem Cell Program runs regular research meetings to foster collaboration and the use of shared resources to assemble highly-qualified teams of researchers for every disease model.  There are also monthly seminars to highlight a specific project with input from the research community.  Program members may apply to receive primary human MSC or iPSC cultures through the Stem Cell Distribution Award.  Finally, an annual Stem Cell Pilot Service Award is designed to support researchers working to gain support for their projects.