Starr Foundation Renews Gifts for Cancer Consortium and Stem Cell Research Initiative

Pictured: Neural stem cells

Neural stem cells

The Starr Foundation is providing renewed support for a cancer consortium and stem cell research totaling $105 million. The Foundation has announced that The Starr Cancer Consortium – a collaboration among Memorial Sloan Kettering, the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, The Rockefeller University, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory – will receive $55 million in renewed support. In addition, a $50 million gift has been awarded to the original members of the Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative (Tri-SCI), which include Memorial Sloan Kettering, The Rockefeller University, and Weill Cornell Medical College.

The Starr Cancer Consortium

Created in 2006, The Starr Cancer Consortium has provided a model for collaborative research that builds on the complementary strengths of the member institutions. All projects supported by the Consortium involve investigators from two or more of the five participating institutions. To date, 77 projects have been funded.

“Starr Foundation funding has enabled us to forge important alliances while undertaking innovative, highly promising research that would not otherwise have been possible,” says Memorial Sloan Kettering President and CEO Craig B. Thompson. “This initiative has proven that collaboration leads to more-rapid advancement of cancer research from the laboratory to clinical applications.”

Several notable accomplishments involving Memorial Sloan Kettering investigators include the discovery of genetic mutations that predict overall survival in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome, and the discovery of how a new melanoma drug works and why it stops working in some patients.

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The Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative

The Starr Foundation also continued its historic commitment to stem cell research with a $50 million gift, renewing its support for the Tri-SCI, which the Foundation established in 2005. The new gift will advance stem cell research at the three member institutions.

With support from The Starr Foundation, Tri-SCI laboratories are investigating the properties of embryonic stem cells, which have the potential to differentiate into any cell type in the body, and adult stem cells, which are found in various tissues and can give rise to specific cell types.  These studies are opening new avenues for understanding a range of health conditions, including developmental disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. The knowledge gained through this research is also laying the groundwork for the design of regenerative therapies to replenish tissues lost to illness or injury.

Under the Tri-SCI, investigators work across institutional and disciplinary boundaries to advance scientific understanding in a rapidly expanding field of biomedicine. The Tri-SCI funds technology development, seminars, and symposia to foster intellectual exchange, and fellowships to train future leaders in stem cell research.

At Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Brain Tumor Center, neurosurgeon and researcher Viviane S. Tabar is studying the potential use of neural and pluripotent stem cells to repair brain tissue following injury or disease. In a recent study, Dr. Tabar showed for the first time that brain tumors called glioblastomas can generate their own blood vessels from tumor stem cells. She and her colleagues analyzed nearly 100 human tissue samples from Memorial Sloan Kettering’s tumor bank and found that blood vessels carry the same common genetic mutations as the tumors themselves. These findings may help to explain why glioblastomas are resistant to treatment.

“The goals of the Tri-SCI are truly ambitious, and only a collaborative venture of this magnitude could provide the resources and expertise needed to achieve them,” adds Dr. Thompson. “All of us at Memorial Sloan Kettering are grateful to The Starr Foundation for its vision and generosity in supporting this vital area of research.”

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