Initiative on Human Health

Innovative faculty are transforming human well-being and health care through multidisciplinary research and cooperation across the entire university

Lorry Lokey Stem Cell Research Building

The new Lorry Lokey Stem Cell Research Building will further enhance Stanford's progress in stem cell technology.

Stanford’s continuing progress in the Initiative on Human Health is based on the university’s ability to recruit and support exceptional faculty members. The initiative is designed to facilitate the translation of discoveries from the laboratory to the patient’s bedside. The university is concentrating its efforts in five areas: the biosciences, bioengineering, cancer, stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, and the neurosciences.

In 2009, four Stanford faculty members were named winners of the National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award, which recognizes innovative research: Ajay Chawla (Medicine), Chang-Zheng Chen (Microbiology, Immunology), Markus Covert (Bioengineering) and Krishna Shenoy (Electrical Engineering). In addition, Howard Chang (Dermatology), Karl Deisseroth (Bioengineering, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences) and Tirin Moore (Neurobiology) were appointed by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as Early Career Scientists.

Successful recruitment has, for instance, increased the Bioengineering faculty to 19, and the department will launch an undergraduate curriculum in 2010.

The importance of understanding the brain and being able to address multiple diseases of the brain—including depression, autism, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease—is reflected in the close relationship between the newly formed Stanford Institute for Neuro-Innovation and Translational Neurosciences (SINTN) and Bio-X NeuroVentures. SINTN speeds both basic understanding of the brain and also the translation of innovation into practice. Bio-X NeuroVentures seeks to assemble new groupings of interdisciplinary researchers to develop novel approaches to studying the brain in health and disease. This year saw a new neuroprosthetics initiative established that involves researchers spanning neurosurgery, neuroscience and engineering.

The cooperation among neuroscientists across campus is illustrated also by the new field of optogenetics, which was invented at Stanford and is supported by Bio-X NeuroVentures and SINTN. This new field draws together investigators in molecular genetics, optics and electronics. Together, they are learning how to control individual circuits within the brain, with the ultimate goal of treating previously intractable neurological and psychiatric diseases. Stanford is poised to be a leader in this important area.

Key to initiative progress in 2009 was funding for the Center for Neurobiological Imaging, headed by Brian Wandell, the Isaac and Madeline Stein Family Professor, to create a new neuroimaging resource in the Department of Psychology to study human cognitive neuroscience. Also key was the awarding by the National Institute of Mental Health of a $10 million, five-year grant to establish a Silvio O. Conte Center for Neuroscience Research. The Stanford Conte Center will be devoted to the study of neuroplasticity: how the brain changes during development or when it is exposed to changing situations. Robert Malenka, the Nancy Friend Pritzker Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, will lead the center. Scientists there will use molecular, electrophysiological and imaging technologies to look at changes in brain function at all levels, from trans-brain circuitry down to the changes in the synapse — the microscopic gap where one nerve cell communicates with another.

The development of technologies and applications in stem cell and regenerative medicine remains one of the most important fields in science and medicine and vital to health initiative progress. Stanford’s leading role is measured by success in obtaining funding from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). As of the end of 2009, Stanford had received $163 million in grants from the state’s stem cell agency—more than any other institution.

For instance, three teams of researchers received a total of $51.7 million in grants from CIRM to develop an antibody therapy for human acute myeloid leukemia, to find ways of ameliorating the brain damage caused by ischemic strokes and to use stem cell therapy to treat a genetic skin condition called epidermolysis bullosa. Another grant for $5.8 million will be used to stimulate adult stem cells to heal damaged nerves, bone, skin and cardiac muscle.

The new Lorry Lokey Stem Cell Research Building will further enhance Stanford's progress in stem cell technology. In 2010, the initiative also will be aided by the completion of the Lorry Lokey Stem Cell Research Building. It is anticipated to be the largest research facility of its kind when completed.

The Lokey Building will house the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, which integrates researchers from cancer, neuroscience, cardiovascular medicine, transplantation, immunology, bioengineering and developmental biology. The Stanford Cancer Center will have a major presence in the building, with researchers studying human cancer stem cells through the Ludwig Center for Cancer Stem Cell Research and Medicine.