NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Rutgers University has received a $3.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to apply engineering, physical science and mathematical disciplines to stem cell research. In funding 70 doctoral fellowships, the program can equip experts in fields such as cell and molecular biology, computational modeling and biomaterials to move stem-cell breakthroughs from the biology lab into practical and commercially viable therapies.
NSF awarded the five-year grant as part of its Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, which supports scientists and engineers pursuing doctorates in fields that cross academic disciplines and have broad societal impact. IGERT programs also support training for underrepresented minorities to enhance diversity in the science and engineering workforce. This is the fourth IGERT grant that the NSF has awarded Rutgers over the past five years, and notably the first NSF-supported training program nationally on stem cells.
"Despite the attention that stem cell research has received, most of the work has been restricted to biological approaches," said Prabhas Moghe, lead scientist in Rutgers' IGERT program. Moghe is a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. "For those discoveries to go from the test tube into treatments that heal injuries and cure diseases, we will need to equip a broad range of scientists and engineers with stem cell knowledge and expertise."
Moghe explained that the grant will train scientists to probe the genetics of stem cells and capture images of their molecular makeup. It will also prepare biotechnologists to grow stem cells on engineered materials and find ways to introduce stem cells into living tissues. Work funded by the NSF grant will involve adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells in the approved federal lines.
This effort builds upon Moghe's previous IGERT grant, which trained 36 doctoral students from eight programs to use cross-disciplinary research techniques in working with engineered biointerfaces.
Rutgers' IGERT grant will also fund undergraduate courses on stem cell science and engineering that should encourage students to pursue graduate research, and fund teacher training programs to educate New Jersey middle- and high-school students about stem cells. Additionally, the grant will support internships for the doctoral fellows with medical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and workshops with government leaders who are involved in stem cell legislation and regulation.
"With this NSF support, Rutgers will prepare more students to conduct breakthrough research that reveals new knowledge in fundamental biology and accelerates the use of stem cells in the treatment of debilitating injuries and diseases," said Rutgers President Richard L. McCormick. "It will boost our standing as one of the world's top universities for stem cell research and training."
"By broadening the scope of stem cell research to encompass molecular biosciences, engineering and physical sciences, the grant will strengthen our efforts to find cures for brain and spinal cord injuries and disorders," said Dr. Wise Young, Richard H. Shindell Professor of Neuroscience at Rutgers. Young, a world leader in spinal cord injury and treatment and an outspoken advocate for stem cell research, is a co-investigator in the IGERT program.
Participating in the NSF IGERT grant will be 35 Rutgers faculty members affiliated with 10 graduate programs, including lead co-investigators Martin Grumet of the Center for Collaborative Neuroscience, Karl Herrup of the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Kathryn Uhrich of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and Martin Yarmush of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Several scientists from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School also will participate through joint graduate programs in molecular bioscience.
Also participating are the following research institutes based at or affiliated with Rutgers: the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience; the New Jersey Center for Biomaterials; the New Jersey Stem Cell Institute; the Cancer Institute of New Jersey; the Institute for Advanced Materials, Devices, and Nanotechnology; the Center for Computational Design; and the Bioinformatics Institute.
"With this project, IGERT's interdisciplinary approach is advancing transformative science by bringing researchers from different worlds together to realize the promise of stem cells," said Carol Van Hartesveldt, program manager for the IGERT program at NSF.
Partnerships with the Rutgers Business School, the Eagleton Institute of Politics and the School of Management and Labor Relations will encourage interaction between IGERT fellows and their peers in business and politics as well as with industrial scientists. The program will also establish internship opportunities with 15 international universities and research laboratories in Asia, Europe and Australia.