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Keck grant to boost UofL research on bone-marrow transplants

March 21st, 2007

The University of Louisville’s Institute for Cellular Therapeutics has received a grant to accelerate its research on bone-marrow transplants, a therapy with potential to treat more than 20 diseases that affect millions of people.

The team will use the $1.75 million award from the W.M. Keck Foundation to buy new technical equipment that will improve its ability to see and analyze individual cells and to better understand cell interaction.

“The ability to see cells ‘talk’ to each other in real time will profoundly affect our ability to develop new therapies,” said Suzanne Ildstad, institute director.

Ildstad, who holds UofL’s Jewish Hospital Distinguished Chair in Transplantation Research, received international acclaim in 1994 for discovering a “facilitating” cell that allows bone marrow to be transplanted from one person to another without rejection.

The facilitating cell tricks the immune system into accepting bone marrow stem cells from an unrelated donor without life-threatening rejection.

“Because some dysfunction or malfunction of the immune system is at work in so many diseases and medical conditions, the potential for this research is immense,” said Larry Cook, executive vice president for health affairs.

If scientists can make bone marrow transplants safe and routine, they will be much closer to finding a cure for diabetes, lupus, multiple scleroris, rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other diseases, Ildstad said.

Such a step also would mean that organ transplants could be performed without risk of rejection and would eliminate the need for anti-rejection medicine.

Keck, a private foundation based in Los Angeles, supports pioneering work in science, engineering and medical research. Funding from the organization generally is awarded only to leading researchers, scientific centers and universities.

“Receiving a gift of this magnitude from the Keck Foundation is a hallmark of scientific excellence,” said UofL President James Ramsey.

“We are proud of Dr. Ildstad, who was our first ‘Bucks for Brains’ faculty recruit,” he said. “We congratulate her and her team for winning this prestigious grant, and we hope it will lead to new help for millions of patients and their families.”

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