Project A.L.S. Opens Privately-Funded Stem Cell Research Laboratory, the First to Focus Exclusively on ALS and Related Diseases

The Project A.L.S./Jenifer Estess Laboratory for Stem Cell Research Opens

Today in New York



May 15, 2006, 01:00 ET from Project A.L.S.

    NEW YORK, May 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Project A.L.S. today opens the first
 privately-funded lab to focus exclusively on the study of stem cells to
 treat ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and related motor neuron
 diseases, announced Valerie Estess, Research Director for Project A.L.S.
     The Project A.L.S./Jenifer Estess Laboratory for Stem Cell Research
 (Project A.L.S. Lab) is a joint venture between Project A.L.S. and Columbia
 University. Based in New York, the Project A.L.S. Lab does not accept
 federal funding and has an "open-door" policy that encourages Project
 A.L.S.-funded stem cell researchers and collaborators from Harvard
 University, Johns Hopkins University, the Salk Institute, Memorial
 Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and other New York-based institutions to
 collaborate with Columbia University- based scientists and clinicians.
     "The creation of a state-of-the-art laboratory where the latest ideas
 in stem cell biology can be explored on human stem cell derived motor
 neurons, without hindrance or constraint, is a very remarkable
 achievement," said Thomas M. Jessell, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical
 Institute Investigator, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics
 and a Member of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia
 University Medical Center in New York City. "The entire ALS community,
 within New York City and nationally, owes Project A.L.S. a big debt of
 gratitude. Their far-sighted and pro-active research agenda is setting the
 standards for modern approaches to investigating neurodegenerative
 diseases."
     Christopher E. Henderson, Ph.D., and Hynek Wichterle, Ph.D., of
 Columbia University will serve as senior scientific advisors to the Project
 A.L.S. Lab. Dr. Jessell will be the research advisor. These appointments
 recognize the long-standing relationship between Columbia University's
 world-renowned neuroscientists and Project A.L.S.
     In 1999, Project A.L.S. recruited Dr. Jessell's laboratory to examine
 how stem cells could help scientists better understand and treat ALS. Since
 that time, Drs. Jessell and Wichterle's research has demonstrated that
 embryonic stem cells can be directed to differentiate into functional motor
 neurons, the very nerve cells selectively destroyed in ALS. The Project
 A.L.S. Lab provides a dedicated place for exploration of these findings and
 for work toward treatments and cures for people with ALS and related motor
 neuron diseases.
     Dr. Jessell continued, "In establishing the lab, Project A.L.S. has
 paved the way for a dramatic acceleration in the pace at which advances in
 basic motor neuron biology can be translated into more effective clinical
 therapies for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and related
 diseases."
     Initially, the research initiatives of the Project A.L.S. Lab will
 include:
     -- The development of the first human cell-based ALS assays or tests,
        which will provide new information about the human form of the disease.
        (Previously, scientists have studied transgenic mice that develop
        ALS.);
     -- The use of stem-cell-derived motor neurons to screen drug
        candidates for ALS and SMA (spinal muscular atrophy);
     Subsequently, the work of the Project A.L.S. Lab will move toward
 development of stem cell transplantation studies.
     The Project A.L.S./Jenifer Estess Laboratory for Stem Cell Research is
 named in memory of Project A.L.S. co-founder, Jenifer Estess, who was
 diagnosed with ALS at the age of thirty-five, and who died from the disease
 in 2003. ALS is a uniformly fatal neurodegenerative disease related to
 Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and results in progressive paralysis of nearly
 all voluntary muscles, including ones controlling movement, speech, and
 breathing. Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS will affect more than
 300,000 Americans living now.
     "The Project A.L.S. Lab will be a crucial resource ... it is
 extraordinary that Project A.L.S. has implemented this so rapidly. This
 bodes well for accelerated development of stem cell therapeutics in ALS,"
 said Robert H. Brown, Jr, M.D., D.Phil., Professor of Neurology at Harvard
 Medical School, and a Project A.L.S. collaborator.
     Project A.L.S. has a record of supporting promising research in its
 earliest stages. In 1998, Project A.L.S. was first to unite and fund a
 working group of stem cell biologists, ALS clinicians, anatomists, and
 basic scientists to better understand whether stem cells could be a
 valuable tool to unlock the mysteries of ALS and related diseases.
     In only seven years, the Project A.L.S. stem cell consortium has
 achieved significant scientific breakthroughs, including:
     -- In 2002, Hynek Wichterle (Columbia University) et al. showed that stem
        cells could be directed to become bone fide motor neurons, the very
        cells that are destroyed in ALS and related motor neuron diseases
        (Cell, 2002, Aug 9)
     -- In 2003, a Project A.L.S.-funded team led by Doug Kerr and researchers
        from Johns Hopkins University showed that rats paralyzed with an
        ALS-like syndrome regained significant motor function after receiving
        an infusion of stem cells into the spinal fluid
        (Journal Neuroscience, 2003 June 15).
     -- Collaborator Robert M. Brownstone et al. showed that
        embryonic-stem-cell-derived motor neurons could establish appropriate
        connections with target muscle
        (Journal Neuroscience, 2004 Sep 8; Journal Neuroscience, 2006 Mar 22).
     -- Collaborators including Drs. Fred Gage (Salk Institute), Christopher
        Kintner (Salk Institute) and Sally Temple (Albany Medical College) are
        characterizing endogenous populations of stem cells and looking ahead
        to using these cells as tools toward regeneration and repair.
     "Project A.L.S. is thrilled to open the first stem cell lab of its
 kind, not for the bells and whistles that come along with a grand opening,
 but because Project A.L.S. has shown that stem cells will very likely make
 a difference in understanding and treating a fatal human disease," Valerie
 Estess said. "The Project A.L.S. Lab is our latest-and most significant-
 investment in stem cell research. It is the necessary next step in
 forwarding scientific discovery, and, one day, stopping brain disease."
     About Project A.L.S.
     Project A.L.S. is a non-profit 501(C)3 founded in 1998, by Jenifer
 Estess, her sisters, and friends, when Jenifer was diagnosed with ALS
 (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). The majority of fundraising proceeds goes
 to support investigations in genetics and gene therapy, stem cells,
 identification of disease pathways, and accelerated drug discovery. The
 hallmark of Project A.L.S. research is collaboration. Researchers and
 clinicians who were formerly competitors now play on the same team, and
 work rationally, constructively and aggressively toward the most dynamic
 translational goals, namely, the first
     effective treatments for ALS. More information about Project A.L.S. can
 be found at http://www.projectals.org .
     Media Contact
     Rachel Martin/Edelman
     Office: 323.202.1031
     Mobile: 323.893.9047
 
 

SOURCE Project A.L.S.
    NEW YORK, May 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Project A.L.S. today opens the first
 privately-funded lab to focus exclusively on the study of stem cells to
 treat ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and related motor neuron
 diseases, announced Valerie Estess, Research Director for Project A.L.S.
     The Project A.L.S./Jenifer Estess Laboratory for Stem Cell Research
 (Project A.L.S. Lab) is a joint venture between Project A.L.S. and Columbia
 University. Based in New York, the Project A.L.S. Lab does not accept
 federal funding and has an "open-door" policy that encourages Project
 A.L.S.-funded stem cell researchers and collaborators from Harvard
 University, Johns Hopkins University, the Salk Institute, Memorial
 Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and other New York-based institutions to
 collaborate with Columbia University- based scientists and clinicians.
     "The creation of a state-of-the-art laboratory where the latest ideas
 in stem cell biology can be explored on human stem cell derived motor
 neurons, without hindrance or constraint, is a very remarkable
 achievement," said Thomas M. Jessell, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical
 Institute Investigator, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics
 and a Member of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia
 University Medical Center in New York City. "The entire ALS community,
 within New York City and nationally, owes Project A.L.S. a big debt of
 gratitude. Their far-sighted and pro-active research agenda is setting the
 standards for modern approaches to investigating neurodegenerative
 diseases."
     Christopher E. Henderson, Ph.D., and Hynek Wichterle, Ph.D., of
 Columbia University will serve as senior scientific advisors to the Project
 A.L.S. Lab. Dr. Jessell will be the research advisor. These appointments
 recognize the long-standing relationship between Columbia University's
 world-renowned neuroscientists and Project A.L.S.
     In 1999, Project A.L.S. recruited Dr. Jessell's laboratory to examine
 how stem cells could help scientists better understand and treat ALS. Since
 that time, Drs. Jessell and Wichterle's research has demonstrated that
 embryonic stem cells can be directed to differentiate into functional motor
 neurons, the very nerve cells selectively destroyed in ALS. The Project
 A.L.S. Lab provides a dedicated place for exploration of these findings and
 for work toward treatments and cures for people with ALS and related motor
 neuron diseases.
     Dr. Jessell continued, "In establishing the lab, Project A.L.S. has
 paved the way for a dramatic acceleration in the pace at which advances in
 basic motor neuron biology can be translated into more effective clinical
 therapies for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and related
 diseases."
     Initially, the research initiatives of the Project A.L.S. Lab will
 include:
     -- The development of the first human cell-based ALS assays or tests,
        which will provide new information about the human form of the disease.
        (Previously, scientists have studied transgenic mice that develop
        ALS.);
     -- The use of stem-cell-derived motor neurons to screen drug
        candidates for ALS and SMA (spinal muscular atrophy);
     Subsequently, the work of the Project A.L.S. Lab will move toward
 development of stem cell transplantation studies.
     The Project A.L.S./Jenifer Estess Laboratory for Stem Cell Research is
 named in memory of Project A.L.S. co-founder, Jenifer Estess, who was
 diagnosed with ALS at the age of thirty-five, and who died from the disease
 in 2003. ALS is a uniformly fatal neurodegenerative disease related to
 Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and results in progressive paralysis of nearly
 all voluntary muscles, including ones controlling movement, speech, and
 breathing. Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS will affect more than
 300,000 Americans living now.
     "The Project A.L.S. Lab will be a crucial resource ... it is
 extraordinary that Project A.L.S. has implemented this so rapidly. This
 bodes well for accelerated development of stem cell therapeutics in ALS,"
 said Robert H. Brown, Jr, M.D., D.Phil., Professor of Neurology at Harvard
 Medical School, and a Project A.L.S. collaborator.
     Project A.L.S. has a record of supporting promising research in its
 earliest stages. In 1998, Project A.L.S. was first to unite and fund a
 working group of stem cell biologists, ALS clinicians, anatomists, and
 basic scientists to better understand whether stem cells could be a
 valuable tool to unlock the mysteries of ALS and related diseases.
     In only seven years, the Project A.L.S. stem cell consortium has
 achieved significant scientific breakthroughs, including:
     -- In 2002, Hynek Wichterle (Columbia University) et al. showed that stem
        cells could be directed to become bone fide motor neurons, the very
        cells that are destroyed in ALS and related motor neuron diseases
        (Cell, 2002, Aug 9)
     -- In 2003, a Project A.L.S.-funded team led by Doug Kerr and researchers
        from Johns Hopkins University showed that rats paralyzed with an
        ALS-like syndrome regained significant motor function after receiving
        an infusion of stem cells into the spinal fluid
        (Journal Neuroscience, 2003 June 15).
     -- Collaborator Robert M. Brownstone et al. showed that
        embryonic-stem-cell-derived motor neurons could establish appropriate
        connections with target muscle
        (Journal Neuroscience, 2004 Sep 8; Journal Neuroscience, 2006 Mar 22).
     -- Collaborators including Drs. Fred Gage (Salk Institute), Christopher
        Kintner (Salk Institute) and Sally Temple (Albany Medical College) are
        characterizing endogenous populations of stem cells and looking ahead
        to using these cells as tools toward regeneration and repair.
     "Project A.L.S. is thrilled to open the first stem cell lab of its
 kind, not for the bells and whistles that come along with a grand opening,
 but because Project A.L.S. has shown that stem cells will very likely make
 a difference in understanding and treating a fatal human disease," Valerie
 Estess said. "The Project A.L.S. Lab is our latest-and most significant-
 investment in stem cell research. It is the necessary next step in
 forwarding scientific discovery, and, one day, stopping brain disease."
     About Project A.L.S.
     Project A.L.S. is a non-profit 501(C)3 founded in 1998, by Jenifer
 Estess, her sisters, and friends, when Jenifer was diagnosed with ALS
 (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). The majority of fundraising proceeds goes
 to support investigations in genetics and gene therapy, stem cells,
 identification of disease pathways, and accelerated drug discovery. The
 hallmark of Project A.L.S. research is collaboration. Researchers and
 clinicians who were formerly competitors now play on the same team, and
 work rationally, constructively and aggressively toward the most dynamic
 translational goals, namely, the first
     effective treatments for ALS. More information about Project A.L.S. can
 be found at http://www.projectals.org .
     Media Contact
     Rachel Martin/Edelman
     Office: 323.202.1031
     Mobile: 323.893.9047
 
 SOURCE  Project A.L.S.