The SCI Leadership Team Initiatives
Faculty at the University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute lead a portfolio of research projects that are designed with translational intent. The projects range from stem cell based cellular therapies for medical conditions and injuries with no current effective treatment to new research and support products for use in stem cell and regenerative medicine industries. The catch-all term “Translation” means something very different for each of these projects and effective support for each endeavor requires a flexible approach to build and leverage the necessary funding, infrastructure, and project management to ensure the desired outcome. The project pipeline includes research initiated discoveries that are targeting early-stage human clinical trials that will require sustained support over prolonged periods as well as innovative new products that require more short-term support through toxicity studies or prototype manufacture. The basic science research at the heart of the Stem Cell Institute is the origin of these discoveries but to ensure that we can “Use stem cell biology to change the practice of medicine” requires a different focus and skill set. At the University of Minnesota we have existing infrastructure for cGMP cell and tissue manufacture, a supportive medical school, the experience and infrastructure from the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and therefore we are well positioned to hold onto our new discoveries in the stem cell and regenerative medicine space to develop and refine prototypes, generate first-in-human safety data and generally develop the discoveries to a degree of maturity that will make them more robust and viable as they enter the commercial and clinical realms.
To assist in this process, we have started three new enterprises at the UMN Stem Cell Institute. The first is The Isthmus Foundation, a new non-profit organization that is dedicated to generating necessary funding and infrastructure together with commercial and clinical project management expertise to support the translational aims of UMN SCI project investigator teams. The Isthmus Foundation was the outcome of discussions between Stem Cell Institute Faculty member Dr. James Dutton and local business experts and was newly incorporated early in 2018. The Foundation has attracted an enthusiastic board of directors and an extensive network of experienced individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds to support the Foundation aims by developing expert groups to assess and guide the individual project teams. The goal is to provide individual project management for each project to determine the most appropriate pathway to effective translation and to ensure the appropriate support is raised and available whether that be funding for more research, process development or manufacturing prototypes, market analysis or early stage company investment working in close cooperation with the UMN Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC) to protect and leverage Intellectual Property generated.
Translational Incubator Facility
Commercializing stem cell discoveries requires specialized equipment and facilities that are expensive to set up and maintain and present a significant barrier to the entry of early-stage enterprises in this field. To help overcome this problem the UMN Stem Cell Institute is opening a wet lab Translational Incubator Facility with funding assistance from Regenerative Medicine Minnesota. This low cost entry facility will be available for commercial use. Individual laboratory space is also available for hire with shared equipment thereby providing a turn-key facility for start-up enterprises with little or no requirement for additional equipment investment. Space is filling but will be expanded as needs change.
Stem Cell Culture Automation Facility
Finally, the UMN SCI will be opening a new Stem Cell Culture Automation Facility. Funding provided by generous philanthropic support for a research initiative investigating new treatments for Age related Macular Degeneration (AMD), jointly supported by the Stem Cell Institute and the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Neurosciences, has given us the opportunity to place two TECAN Fluent 780 workstations in a dedicated Stem Cell Automation laboratory in the MTRF building that houses the Stem Cell Institute. These sophisticated machines enable start-to-end automation of stem cell culture processes and are being used to develop automated scaling of patient specific iPSC derivation and differentiation and analysis in support of the AMD project. The automation equipment will be also available to support research and commercial groups to develop refine and demonstrate automated processes for clinical and commercial use.