Director resigns as just one clinical-trial award is made.
Stem-cell researchers at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) have been left frustrated and confused following the demise of the agency’s Center for Regenerative Medicine (CRM). The intramural programme’s director, stem-cell biologist Mahendra Rao, left the NIH, in Bethesda, Maryland, on 28 March, and the centre’s website was taken down on 4 April. Although no official announcement had been made at the time Nature went to press, NIH officials say that they are rethinking how they will conduct in-house stem-cell research.
Researchers affiliated with the centre say that they have been left in the dark. When contacted by Nature on 7 April, George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and a member of the centre’s external advisory board, said that he had not yet been told of Rao’s departure or the centre’s closure.
The CRM was established in 2010 to centralize the NIH’s stem-cell programme. Its goal was to develop useful therapies from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells — adult cells that have been converted into embryonic-like stem cells — and shepherd them towards clinical trials and regulatory approval. Its budget was intended to be $52 million over seven years.
Rao took the helm in 2011. Relations seem to have soured last month owing to an NIH decision to award funding to only one project aiming to move iPS cells into a clinical trial. Rao says he resigned after this became clear. He says that he had hoped that five trials would be funded, especially because the centre had already sorted out complex issues relating to tissue sources, patents and informed consent.
James Anderson, director of the NIH’s Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, which administered the CRM, counters that only one application — that made by Kapil Bharti of the National Eye Institute in Bethesda and his colleagues — received a high enough score from an external review board to justify continued funding. The team aims to use iPS cells to treat age-related macular degeneration of the retina, and hopes to commence human trials within a few years. Several other proposals, which involved the treatment of cardiac disease, cancer and Parkinson’s disease, will not receive funding to ready them for clinical trials. Anderson stresses that Bharti’s trial will not be affected by the CRM’s closure.
Written By: Sara Reardon
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