Stem Cells to the Clinic

December 1, 2017

It was not by chance that Minnesota became home to a world-class medical device industry. Any number of states possessed research institutions, hospitals, and precision manufacturing, but it was the early synergy between the innovative research environment at UMN clinics and the local availability of technical expertise that drove the initial growth of the device industry. The pioneering clinical research at the University of Minnesota spurred the invention of novel medical devices and led to the establishment of companies such as Medtronic and St Jude Medical. These two medical device companies alone currently generate annual revenue of over $35 billion. Similar conditions are present today in the early stages of the stem cell-derived cellular therapeutics industry, and the University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute is well positioned to be at the forefront of the new business of stem cells therapies and regenerative medicine. Incredibly, the rapidly expanding areas of stem cell and regenerative medicine businesses are projected to outgrow even the medical device sector.

Leadership at the University of Minnesota was quick to recognize the potential of stem cell science, establishing the first interdisciplinary institute in the United States dedicated to stem cell research in 1999 and relocating the Institute to a dedicated building in the University of Minnesota Biomedical Discovery District in 2006. Under the leadership of director Jakub Tolar, MD PhD, 48 investigators from 25 collaborating University divisions work towards the stated goal of “Using stem cell biology to change the practice of medicine.”

UMN possesses significant expertise in stem cell biology together with clinicians willing and able to test pioneering new cell therapies. The University has also invested wisely in the infrastructure that will support the translation of promising research, particularly in establishing Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics, a 36,000-square-foot, on-campus facility for cGMP production of cell- and tissue-based products led by Scientific and Medical Director Dr. David McKenna, MD. There has also been significant support from the Minnesota State Legislature with the Regenerative Medicine Minnesota initiative allocating almost $50M of funding over 10 years for research, education, patient care, and business development throughout the state. 

The UMN Stem Cell Institute Leadership Team has recently begun a Translational Initiative to leverage the expertise, infrastructure, and funding available on campus and around the state of Minnesota to speed translation of a pipeline of promising stem cell-related technologies under development at the Institute. The projects include stem cell-derived treatments for diabetes, spinal cord injury, age-related macular degeneration, cancer, and muscular dystrophy. New technologies in development include novel cryopreservation technology to improve existing clinical cell products and stem cell seeding of artificial scaffolds. The community established via the Translational Initiative is positioned to become a model platform for accelerating translation of stem cell-based products and therapies. Again, it is not by chance that Minnesota is poised to be at the forefront of cellular therapeutics and regenerative medicine, and the Stem Cell Institute is excited about the future of development and discovery.