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Updated 4:00 PM September 28, 2005




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U-M launches center for stem cell biology

President Mary Sue Coleman Sept. 19 announced a significant expansion of the University's efforts in stem cell science with the creation of a new interdisciplinary center for research, to be based at the Life Sciences Institute (LSI).
Morrison (Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

"Stem cell science is one of the most important areas in biomedical research today," Coleman said. "It has already yielded key insights into the elusive biology of human development and has great potential for increasing our understanding of devastating human diseases like diabetes, cancer, Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases."

The center for stem cell biology will be established with $10.5 million in funding provided by the Medical School, LSI and the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute (MBNI).

Under the leadership of stem cell scientist Sean Morrison, the center will recruit up to seven faculty members whose laboratories will be located in LSI, the Medical School or MBNI. The center will emphasize using stem cell science to answer the most pressing questions of fundamental human biology, such as how specific tissues in the body are formed and how cells communicate with one another.

In looking at the fundamental biology of stem cells, scientists at the center will examine such phenomena as the ability of stem cells to replicate themselves indefinitely, which could provide insight into how cancer cells can do the same thing.

"Our commitment to follow the science where it leads is Michigan's historic strength and research signature," Coleman said. "As a world scientific leader, U-M is vigorously pursuing this promising area of discovery."

U-M scientists have made notable advances in many areas of stem cell science, especially involving tissue-specific and cancer stem cells. The Medical School is home to one of only three National Institutes of Health-funded human embryonic stem cell research centers in the United States.

"We believe the new center for stem cell biology will serve as a research hub leading to increased communication and collaboration among all U-M scientists working in this dynamic field of scientific inquiry," said Dr. Allen S. Lichter, Medical School dean. "Medical School scientists—many of whom will be located in our new Biomedical Sciences Research Building just across the street from the Life Sciences Institute—will be in a perfect position to work closely with LSI researchers. The opportunity to interact and share expertise and technical resources will be an enormous benefit to everyone involved."

Morrison is an associate professor of internal medicine in the Medical School and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Pending approval of the Board of Regents, Morrison will be appointed the Henry Sewall Professor in Medicine and also will hold the title of research associate professor in LSI. His research focuses on blood-forming, or hematopoietic, stem cells that give rise to all blood and immune system cells, and on neural crest stem cells that produce the peripheral nervous system. His laboratory has published several important advances in stem cell biology in recent years.

"The University-wide commitment to create and support this new research center is a tangible sign of the importance U-M places on this rapidly developing area of science," said Morrison, who was honored with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2003. "The more we learn about the fundamental biology of stem cells, the greater the potential for advances in biomedical research and medicine. Bringing scientists from many disciplines together to focus on important questions in stem cell biology is the best way to speed the pace of discovery."

Morrison will move his laboratory to LSI and this fall will begin recruiting new faculty members who will hold joint appointments in many different life science departments. The new center also will encompass key core facilities used in stem cell research, including the Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"Stem cell biology is an important area of research, and it is the basic science that holds great promise," said Alan Saltiel, LSI director. "We are in the midst of revolutionary change in health care that starts with life sciences research and progresses through to new treatments for things like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. The key of the center is knowledge building and collaboration—bringing the best scientists together from multiple disciplines to shed light on these big problems."

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