$1 million grant advancing research on stem cell therapy for heart disease at University of Miami
By Zachary S. Fagenson
With a $1 million grant in hand, research on stem cell therapy for heart disease is advancing at the University of Miami's Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, while the center is also adding new programs looking at how stem cells can be used in everything from stroke recovery to cancer treatment.
The institute has been conducting the research since its founding in 2007 by current Director Joshua Hare.
Today, its main focus seems to be using bone marrow stem cells to repair damaged heart cells.
"We have two active clinical trials and are about to start a third," Dr. Hare said. "We're very excited about the potential. We're starting to imagine, based on our work, the possibility of this therapy helping people."
The institute has also received $1 million from the National Institute of Health to develop a new cardiac stem cell and received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to start a programs for patients with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes weakened and enlarged and cannot pump blood efficiently.
But the institute is also branching into other areas where stem cells are thought to be effective.
"We are in the midst of planning a program with patients for stroke and for patients with non-healing wound ulcers," Dr. Hare added. "In addition, we've had two major new programs join. One is an eye disease, and this is led by Dr. Jeffrey Goldberg [of the Bascom Palmer Institute], and we started a cancer stem cell program led by Dr. [Tan] Ince."
A handful of recent court decisions affecting funding for embryonic stem cell research haven't affected the institute directly but caught its attention.
"I think any time that there's a legal decision that affects NIH funding we get very concerned," Dr. Hare said, though the institute's research focuses mainly on stem cells derived from adult bone marrow.
Citing moral concerns over destruction of embryonic cells obtained through the abortion process, President Bush in 2001 barred the National Institute of Health from funding research on embryonic stem cells other than using the 60 known cell lines that existed when he signed the executive order.
Upon taking office nearly two years ago, President Obama voiced renewed support for the sciences and sparked hope in many researchers.
"Just because we're not doing human embryonic [research] doesn't mean we're not following what's going on at the national level," Dr. Hare added.
Last week the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia lifted a preliminary injunction issued by the district court that barred federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
While the federal government and researchers continue through the appeal process, Daniel Fridman, a partner at law firm Holland & Knight specializing in white-collar defense and civil litigation with an emphasis on health industry clients, said the stay could indicate where the Court of Appeals is heading in deciding the fate of federal funding for this research.
"If the Court of Appeals is willing to stay the injunction, it's a signal that the court may eventually overturn the district court's decision," he said.
The injunction, which had once again cut off federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, "wouldn't have had an immediate impact," he added. "The district court stated that its order halting funding didn't apply to projects already receiving funding, though to be safe at this point, researchers should get their grant applications for new research in quickly, just in case."
But with new advances, such issues could become even less important to stem cell institute.
There is an "induced pluripotent stem cell, and this has got a lot of people excited because this cell has the potential to replace embryonic stem cells," Dr. Hare said, "and we have a major program, which we're going to be expanding in the next few years, focused on this."