Courtesy by: courier-journal
A University of Louisville Medical School program focusing on cell-transplant research is the recipient of a $1.6 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Defense that U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-3rd District, helped secure.
The funds will primarily go to support research into adult stem-cell transplant technology at U of L’s Institute of Cellular Therapeutics. The money will be passed through the National Foundation to Support Cell Transplant Research.
The institute’s director, Dr. Suzanne Ildstad, has made some major breakthroughs in bone-marrow transplant technology.
Her team’s discoveries have helped make it possible to safely transfer marrow from one person to another without life-threatening rejection. That holds the promise of permanently treating or curing autoimmune diseases and blood disorders affecting millions worldwide, officials said at a news conference Monday.
The new funding is critical to turning research findings into treatments for such conditions as sickle-cell disease, thalassemia, multiple sclerosis and other metabolic disorders, Ildstad said.
Yarmuth acknowledged that the funding through the 2009 Defense Department appropriations bill could be considered one of his earmarks. He said the Defense Department provided the funding, in part, because the research has implications in helping wounded soldiers, including those who have suffered spinal-cord injuries and those who have lost limbs.
Yarmuth said the funding is a recognition not only of the talented team Ildstad has assembled at U of L, but also of the progress that the team has made.
“They are on the verge of making some really important breakthroughs in areas that can offer a cure for diabetes and some of the other really stubborn medical problems we have. There’s really no limit to how important this research could end up being,” he said. “You’re talking about essentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars a year” in health care costs, “not to speak of the factor of changing lives.”
The Louisville-based National Foundation to Support Cell Transplant Research supports research in adult stem-cell transplantation at U of L as well as at Duke and Northwestern universities.
Ildstad said the institute research team includes a staff of about 55. The program was recruited to U of L from Philadelphia in 1998. Ildstad said the foundation was set up about three years ago and that some of the initial research was funded by a $2.5 million federal grant.
She said the research has also been supported by a variety of private donations to U of L. All of the research is being conducted at U of L, she said, while some of the applications of the research are being tried at medical facilities at the North Carolina and Illinois institutions.
As an example of the work, Ildstad said one recent case involved a boy in Louisville with sickle-cell disease who “could not go outside or play soccer” with other children. He received bone marrow from a sister, and he is now “growing like a weed” and leading a normal life, Ildstad said.
Officials said the new round of funding will go a long way toward advancing the research into adult stem-cell transplant technology.
Yarmuth’s success in obtaining the funding and the support of Dr. Paula Grisanti, chairwoman of the cell-transplant foundation, help researchers such as Ildstad “create the results that bring cures to people with what were seemingly incurable diseases,” U of L President James Ramsey said in a statement.