A new center at the University of Colorado School of Medicine promises to expand one of the frontiers of medicine – stem cell research and treatment.

Stem cells already have been studied since 2007 under a School of Medicine program. But the name change – from program to center – also could create a medical game change. With its higher profile, the Charles C. Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology is expected to:

• Attract more private and federal financial support for research
• Advance stem-cell treatment rapidly through a partnership with the Colorado Prevention Center (CPC). The alliance will combine strategic planning and funding of key clinical trials.

The overall goal is to move stem-cell discoveries into therapies that could revolutionize medicine with new treatments for heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, childhood diabetes, cancer and many more.

“The Center designation really lets us take off,” says Dennis Roop, PhD, head of the stem-cell program at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora since 2007 and now the Center’s director. “This stature will help raise private support and federal grants.”

This is a cooperative regional venture. The Center will draw on expertise from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado State University, University of Colorado Hospital, the Denver Veterans Administration Medical Center, National Jewish Health, The Children’s Hospital and other branches of Anschutz Medical Campus. The new stem-cell center is the only one of its kind for 500 miles.

The program is named for the late Colorado businessman Charles C. Gates, whose children carry on his philanthropic work. The change was recommended by Richard Krugman, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. CU Denver Chancellor M. Roy Wilson, MD, approved the Center on March 15.

More information on stem-cell research follows:

Stem cells: Stem cells can develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They also serve as an internal repair system, dividing to replenish other cells with a specialized function. Most stem-cell research at the Anschutz Medical Campus uses adult stem cells, not embryonic stem cells. The embryonic stem cells that are used are from lines approved by the federal government.

The Gates stem-cell program: Since it began in January 2007, the program grew to include more than 60 full-time employees, including faculty, technicians and postdoctoral fellows. The program received more than $29 million in competitive research grants from foundations and the NIH (with $20 million more pending), and another $18 million from individual donors. The School of Medicine and its academic partners have provided stem-cell research 17,500 square feet of laboratory/office space and $10 million to support new faculty and the development of state-of-the-art facilities.

Dennis R. Roop: A professor of Dermatology, he holds the Charles C. Gates Chair in Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology. Prior to joining the medical school in 2007, Roop was professor of molecular and cellular biology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. In 2001, he received the Michael E. DeBakey Award for Excellence in Research, the medical school’s highest award. Roop graduated from Berea College in 1969 with a degree in biology. He received his MS and PhD degrees from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and completed post-doctoral work at Baylor.

CPC: As part of the transition to Center status, the stem-cell program partnered with CPC, whose president is William Hiatt, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Under this alliance, CPC serves as the Stem Cell Clinical Trials Center. CPC will also provide services and support for all aspects of the human trials needed for FDA approval. CPC was created 20 years ago as a nonprofit organization to manage clinical research and remains an affiliate of CU Denver.

The Anschutz Medical Campus is a model for the type of interdisciplinary research in translational medicine that will take basic discovery “from the bench to the bedside.”