Imagine a device that sits outside the body and works like a form of dialysis for a damaged liver, filtering out the toxins and giving the liver a chance to regenerate, and the patient a chance to avoid the need for a transplant.
Or imagine a method of enhancing the number of stem cells we can harvest or generate from umbilical cord blood, enabling us to use those stem cells and offer life-saving bone marrow transplants to all the patients who don’t have a matched donor.
Well, you may not have to imagine for too long. Yesterday, our governing Board approved almost $30 million in funding for our Tools and Technology Awards and two of the successful applications are for researchers hoping to turn those two ideas into reality.
The Tools n Tech awards may not have the glamor or cache of the big money awards that are developing treatments heading towards clinical trials, but they are nonetheless an essential part of what we do.
As our Board Chair Jonathan Thomas said in a news release they focus on developing new approaches or creating new ways of overcoming some of the biggest obstacles in stem cell research.
“Sometimes even the most promising therapy can be derailed by a tiny problem. These awards are designed to help find ways to overcome those problems, to bridge the gaps in our knowledge and ensure that the best research is able to keep progressing and move out of the lab and into clinical trials in patients.”
Altogether 20 awards were funded for a wide variety of different ideas and projects. Some focus on improving our ability to manufacture the kinds of cells we need for transplanting into patients. Another one plans to use a new class of genetic engineering tools to re-engineer the kind of stem cells found in bone marrow, making them resistant to HIV/AIDS. They also hope this method could ultimately be used to directly target the stem cells while they are inside the body, rather than taking the cells out and performing the same procedure in a lab and later transplanting them back.
One of the winners was Dr. Kent Leach from the University of California, Davis School of Engineering. He’s looking to make a new kind of imaging probe, one that uses light and sound to measure the strength and durability of bone and cartilage created by stem cells. This could eliminate the need for biopsies to make the same measurements, which is good news for patients and might also help reduce healthcare costs.
We featured Dr. Leach in one of our Spotlight videos where he talks about using stem cells to help repair broken bones that no longer respond to traditional methods.