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Montefiore and Einstein Receive Grants to Expand Disease-Focused Stem Cell Research

New York City, NY (October 6, 2008) - The Empire State Stem Cell Board has awarded research planning grants to Montefiore Medical Center and to Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The grants, totaling $238,000, are part of $2 million in grants announced by NY State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D.  The funding, awarded to 18 medical colleges, medical centers and labs will strengthen New York State's capacity for stem cell research and could lead to the development of new therapies for Alzheimer's, diabetes, Parkinson's, ALS and other conditions.

"The ability to treat and heal patients with serious conditions such as liver disease and cancer through groundbreaking stem cell treatments represents the future of medicine, and it is very exciting for us to be part of this vital statewide initiative," said Steven M. Safyer, M.D., President and CEO of Montefiore Medical Center. "Montefiore welcomes the opportunity to bring its strengths to this collaboration and create the synergy between biomedical advancement and its applications to patient care that can happen only in a premier academic medical center like ours." 

Allen M. Spiegel, M.D., the Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean said, "Einstein considers this grant an important step in working collaboratively with scientists across New York State to broaden our understanding of stem cells. This knowledge could lead to breakthroughs in medical science that will have important implications for people suffering from many devastating diseases."

The planning grant awarded to Montefiore will focus on the liver, which has a unique capacity for regeneration. Liver-directed cell therapy offers opportunities to treat or cure dozens of diseases where the liver itself is damaged or diseases that have a basis in the liver but result in disease in other organs of the body.  This program will permit progress in developing new treatments for liver failure, genetic diseases and other disorders that can be addressed by such therapy.

The planning grant awarded to Einstein will focus on establishing a consortium for blood cell disease in New York State. Eric Bouhassira, Ph.D., Einstein's Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Professor of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, said, "What we're hoping to do is to create unique stem cells derived from patients with blood diseases like sickle cell anemia and hemophilia. Once we have these stem cells, we will be in a much better position to try to cure them, by either correcting the genes that cause the problem or by developing drugs that treat the underlying cause of these diseases."

Grant money received to date is part of a coordinated effort by both institutions to ramp up research and improve methods for deriving stem cell lines. The planning grants will allow Montefiore and Einstein to compete for much larger grants in the future.

In January, the Empire State Stem Cell Board awarded Montefiore and Einstein combined first-phase grants of more than $1 million. That funding supports activities at Montefiore and at Einstein's Gottesman Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Research. The two institutions work as partners conducting rigorous scientific study and developing novel therapies for patients. 

"With support from the Empire State Stem Cell program we can share our knowledge, leverage capabilities with other top medical researchers and clinicians, and increase our opportunities to discover and develop new treatments for a variety of clinical conditions and diseases," said Brian Currie, M.D., Vice President of Research at Montefiore.

Under the Empire State Stem Cell program, Montefiore and Einstein work within consortia aimed at linking research institutions and corporations, building and strengthening interdisciplinary research teams, establishing core research facilities, and developing stem cell training and education programs. Stem cell research aims to improve human health and alleviate disease by restoring cells, tissues, and organs lost to disease or injury. There are many areas in medicine where stem cell research could have a significant impact, particularly where a patient's cells or tissues are destroyed and must be replaced by tissue or organ transplants. Researchers believe that stem cell research also holds promise in treating and potentially curing diseases for which there are currently no adequate therapies.

The Empire State Stem Cell Trust Fund, created by the 2007-2008 state budget, will provide up to $600 million for stem cell research over 11 years, an allocation second only to that of California.

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