The Columbia Stem Cell Initiative (CSCI) is tapping the potential of stem cells for human health. Our conviction is that expertise across the board - ranging from basic and translational research to clinical applications and ethics - will be necessary to exploit the huge promise of stem cells in a manner that is rational and safe. The current and future successes of CSCI draw upon the unique depth and breadth of Columbia science. The presence within CSCI of more than 100 research or clinical groups who already have stem cell-related publications or funding justifies our ambition and will provide a magnet for future expansion to keep abreast of this rapidly-moving field.
Our overall goal is to serve patients and their families as we move toward a rational use of stem cells in generating novel therapeutic strategies for ten clinical focus areas. We will do this at multiple levels. Basic research into the mechanisms through which stem cells act will help us to understand their potential to generate specific tissues, and to avoid aspects that are not beneficial. Translational research will benefit massively from stem cell-based models of disease that can be used to screen for new drugs and to analyze the changes that lead to disease in human patients. Ethical research is an essential underpinning if the promise and potential pitfalls of stem cell research are to be frankly discussed within the community. Finally, the involvement of active clinicians in identifying critical populations of patients for study and in sponsoring responsible clinical trials is central.
In order to achieve this goal efficiently, we are also structuring new relationships and collaborations within Columbia and with our partners in New York and elsewhere. The CSCI membership is spread across both the Morningside and the Medical Center campuses, creating a major strategic link between the two and allowing for a seamless integration of initiatives from undergraduate teaching to clinical trials. CSCI members hold primary appointments in more than 30 different departments, allowing us to benefit from expertise and cutting-edge facilities in a wide variety of areas. CSCI is administratively based in the Department of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine (www.cumc.columbia.edu/dept/rehab), reflecting the department’s conviction that stem cell-based research will ultimately lead to new approaches to enhance function and improve the quality of life of individuals with disabling injuries or diseases. To ensure that we exploit the potential of this large and diverse community, CSCI has created forums – external and internal seminars, teaching courses, stem cell committees, monthly meetings and the Columbia Stem Cell Day – in which discoveries can be reported in real time, new collaborations forged and further investigators recruited to the field.
We are only just beginning to perceive the potential of stem cells for human health, whether for better understanding human pathologies or for treating them more efficiently and safely. Despite early successes, many key challenges still need to be faced. Stem cell research will undoubtedly discover new obstacles, even as it reveals beneficial avenues that are unimagined today. The route to success will not be linear or straightforward, but we hope that we can count upon your support every step of the way.