2020 Year in ReviewNews
2020 has been a year like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the world with unparalleled challenges and has highlighted the need for pioneering biomedical research and public support of science. We are proud of everyone in the NYSCF community for their commitment to finding new solutions for this crisis, as well as for keeping groundbreaking disease research, STEM education, and efforts to fight racial injustice in science and medicine moving forward. Check out some highlights from this year below.
1. The NYSCF Community Combats COVID-19
At the NYSCF Research Institute, our scientists are using stem cells to create the specific types of lung cells affected by COVID-19 as a community resource. This will accelerate worldwide research into pressing questions like how the virus infects the lungs, how genetics may make certain individuals more susceptible to severe cases of the disease, and which therapies have the potential to stop or prevent infection. Our vast biobank of stem cell lines allowed us to begin this urgent research immediately, and our labs have remained open throughout the pandemic to address this crisis.
Around the world, our Innovator community is also taking aim at the virus:
- Shuibing Chen, PhD (NYSCF – Robertson Investigator Alumna, Weill Cornell Medicine) is using organoids (3D clusters of tissue made from stem cells) to study the human cells that are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and has identified drugs that block the virus’s entry into cells.
- Feng Zhang, PhD (NYSCF – Robertson Investigator Alumnus, Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard) has developed a rapid paper strip test (based on the revolutionary CRISPR gene editing technology he helped pioneer) that could allow point-of-care diagnosis of COVID-19 using materials that only cost about $6 per test.
- Derrick Rossi, PhD (NYSCF – Robertson Investigator Alumnus, Harvard University) founded Moderna Therapeutics, which has produced a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine (the first to enter clinical trials) that has proven generally safe and shown to be effective in preventing COVID-19 in clinical trials and is awaiting Emergency Use of Authorization by the FDA.
Hear members of this community discuss exciting advancements in COVID-19 research and treatment at a panel discussion below:
2. Fighting to Overcome Racial Health Disparities
Disease impacts everyone, but not in the same way. Disease risk and drug efficacy can vary a great deal across individuals, and unfortunately, much of what we know about diseases and drugs does not apply to ethnic minorities, because most studies have not adequately represented them as research subjects.
The NYSCF Global Stem Cell Array®, NYSCF’s automated technology for producing stem cells, can make stem cells from hundreds of samples at a time, and NYSCF has built a biobank of stem cell lines – which we are continually expanding – aimed at capturing enough genetic diversity to allow assessments of personalized disease traits and drug efficacy.
There are many facets to overcoming racial health disparities, including ensuring representation of all ethnic minorities at every stage of the research pipeline, from early discoveries to clinical trials. Hear experts discuss how we can all work together to ensure that every community benefits from biomedical breakthroughs at a panel discussion held at the 2020 NYSCF Conference:
3. Friendly Brain Cells or Foes? NYSCF Scientists Create New Model of Neurodegeneration
While astrocytes – star-shaped support cells in the brain – are typically helpful for normal brain function, a study published this June and featured on the cover of Neuron led by NYSCF Senior Research Investigator Valentina Fossati, PhD, suggests that in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis, these usually friendly cells may turn into foes.
Dr. Fossati’s team established a method for creating and identifying astrocytes from stem cells, leading to the first demonstration in human cells that inflammation can lead to neurodegeneration. This powerful model for studying how astrocytes can turn toxic to neurons opens a new avenue for strategies to treat these devastating diseases.
Hear Dr. Fossati and other leading researchers explore the benefits and detriments of inflammation, how it may trigger neurodegeneration, and what all of this means for new therapies in a panel discussion:
4. The 2020 NYSCF Conference Convenes Leading Scientists to Discuss Translational Stem Cell Research
“This is not abstract work. There are people on the other end of everything we do in this industry,” noted Tony Coles, MD, CEO of Cerevel Therapeutics in his Fireside Chat at the 2020 NYSCF Conference. “Every time I walk into the office, I am reminded that there are families waiting for the work we’re doing today.”
This drive to help patients is what compels scientists across the stem cell field, and highlighting promising translational research is the focus of the annual NYSCF Conference. At this year’s meeting, held virtually, participants shared the latest findings from their labs, progress in addressing COVID-19, emerging therapies enabled by stem cells, and a vision for the future of regenerative medicine.
5. Celebrities and Thousands Show Up for Science at the NYSCF Gala
This October, celebrities, researchers, advocates, and community members including Lauren Miller Rogen, Seth Rogen, Whoopi Goldberg, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Victor Garber (and more!) ‘Showed Up for Science’ at the annual NYSCF Gala & Science Fair to discuss the latest in groundbreaking stem cell research and honor three Stem Cell Heroes: Frank Gehry, David Rockwell, and Brooke Ellison, PhD.
“For me, this work is not just about the cures that I’m going to see in my lifetime,” said host Sanjay Gupta, MD. “It’s about the world I can help shape for my own daughters and their children. Stem cell research, I think, is really likely to allow future generations to look at diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and other chronic and degenerative conditions the same way that we now see polio or smallpox: as diseases of the past. NYSCF is showing up every day to make that vision a reality.”
Watch the full program below:
6. NYSCF Launches Facility to Create Clinical-Grade Cells
This July, we finished construction on our clinical Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facility at The NYSCF Research Institute. This specialized suite will allow us to create clinical-grade cells for use as therapies, beginning with a cell replacement therapy for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that we are actively developing. For this treatment, we will turn stem cells from different AMD patients into retinal pigmented epithelial (RPE) cells, the cells lost in AMD. Each patient will then receive a transplant of ‘their own’ RPE cells to restore their vision.
“This is our first cell therapy, but we have other investigational programs and glaucoma, blood cancer, and other diseases,” noted Howard Kim, PhD, Senior Director of Cell Therapy Programs. “We are very proud and excited for this, and for our brand-new facility.”
7. Bringing Stem Cell Science to the Public Through Virtual Learning and Events
You can find out the answers to all these questions — and much more — with NYSCF’s comprehensive virtual program of events and learning opportunities for students, parents, teachers, scientists, and the public. These resources, launched this Spring, allow adults and students of all ages to explore exciting advancements in stem cell research and learn all about what is on the horizon for cutting edge science.
Check out a Stem Cells 101 lecture below and visit our virtual learning page for more resources:
8. NYSCF Expands Board of Directors
We expanded our Board of Directors this year to include Clyde Williams and Derrick Rossi, PhD. Mr. Williams began his career working in politics and later served in the Clinton Administration before acting as Domestic Policy Advisor to President Clinton when he left office. He later went on to serve as Political Director of the DNC, appointed by President Obama.
Dr. Rossi is a scientist, biotech entrepreneur, and NYSCF — Robertson Investigator Alumnus. He is currently CEO of Convelo Therapeutics and has founded many other companies including Moderna Therapeutics, the company at the forefront of developing a COVID-19 vaccine and other mRNA-based therapies.
We are thrilled to have Clyde and Derrick as members of the NYSCF Board.
9. Susan Solomon Receives 2020 ISSCR Public Service Award
NYSCF CEO Susan L. Solomon, JD, received the 2020 Public Service Award from the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) for her outstanding contributions to the field. The ISSCR awards celebrate innovative work to harness the potential of stem cells, recognize exceptional research, support young researchers and the future of stem cell research, and acknowledge extraordinary public service.
“Susan Solomon has been an early and enthusiastic supporter of stem cell science,” said Doug Melton, PhD, former ISSCR president and Xander University Professor at Harvard University in a press release from ISSCR. “She successfully campaigned for the state of New York to support the field and, more significantly, established a leading foundation dedicated to advancing stem cell science. Her commitment to supporting the entire field, particularly through the awards to young investigators has been inspirational and productive.”
Hear leading scientists pay tribute to Susan Solomon’s transformational leadership: