The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai founded the Black Family Stem Cell Institute to study stem cell biology and conduct research on both embryonic and adult stem cells. This promising field presents tremendous opportunities for medical and scientific breakthroughs that translate into developing therapeutic treatments by replacing damaged or malignant cells with healthy stem cells, differentiated cell derivatives, or bioengineered tissues. These could potentially form the foundation for replacement therapies in diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, liver-related disease, and certain cancers.
The Promise of Stem Cell Research
Our researchers are studying how stem cells work, such as how they form tissues during embryonic development and how they maintain organs throughout life. The ultimate goal is to understand the behavior of stem cells in order to manipulate them to help develop new, safe, and effective treatments for diseases. We are exploring such fundamental questions as:
- What makes a stem cell a stem cell?
- How do they self-renew or make more of themselves throughout life?
- How do stem cells communicate and signal to one another?
- How do stem cells communicate with neighboring cells about the stem cell microenvironment or niche?
- Why does one stem cell grow into a nerve cell and another a muscle cell?
- How are cell fate decisions made, meaning how do cells determine their own particular function and “fate?”
- Is there a way to manipulate these cell “decisions” to ultimately benefit patients?
The overarching goal is to understand the stem cell’s decision-making process with the hopes of being able to manipulate these stem cell decisions to develop novel therapies that provide for more targeted treatments—even cell and tissue regeneration. Studies show that it is possible to reprogram adult skin cells into cells that are very similar to embryonic stem cells. Once stem cells can be grown and differentiated in a controlled way to replace degenerated cells, medical science may then be able to help find treatments for many diseases at their earliest stages.
Collaborations, Multifunctional Approaches
The Black Family Stem Cell Institute encourages interdisciplinary inquiry and analysis and values collaboration between basic and applied researchers. We recruit both basic and applied researchers to ensure that creative interactions flourish from the beginning of any initiative.
Now and in the years to come, we anticipate a wide range of collaborations. For example, we are collaborating now on generating reprogrammed stem cells from a range of diseases to develop disease models that may lead to breakthrough treatments.
We also plan to explore very promising, upcoming avenues using newly available research tools and quantitative approaches. For example, research with the Experimental Therapeutics Institute and with the Department of Pharmacology and Systems Therapeutics is underway to develop computational tools to model and understand the mechanisms by which stem cells control their differentiation decisions.