LOS ANGELES - Feb. 15, 2010 - Clive Svendsen, Ph.D., director of the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute, is receiving the American Academy of Neurology Sheila Essey Award for his research on ALS (amyothrophic lateral sclerosis).
ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease in which nerve cells called motor neurons degenerate in the brain and spinal cord. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. There is currently no treatment or cure that halts or reverses ALS.
The innovative research Svendsen and his team of scientists have focused on for eight years involves developing specifically-engineered stem cells that, when injected into spinal cords, stalls the degeneration of nerve cells. The specialized stem cells are manufactured to release a growth factor called glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) that has been shown to support the survival of dying motor neurons.
The Sheila Essey Award carries a $25,000 grant to fund continued research. Additionally, Svendsen will address the American Academy of Neurology during the group's annual scientific meeting in Toronto on April 15.
"First I would like to stress that the work has been a true team effort, so would like to thank my lab and collaborators over the years. I am very honored to receive the Essey Award, but constantly humbled by this tragic disease. We all know how difficult ALS is to treat and we have a long way to go," Svendsen said. "However, this award will be used to help us continue developing novel ex vivo gene therapy approaches where stem cell are used as both regenerative support cells and growth factor pumps for dying motor neurons. In particular we are close to completing work on a cell bank that will allow us to move ahead to clinical trials on humans, which may provide another step forward in the treatment of ALS."
Svendsen, who recently joined the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute, is a prominent stem cell scientist whose groundbreaking research focuses on both modeling and treating neurodegenerative disorders such as ALS, Huntington's disease and Parkinson's disease. Prior to joining Cedars-Sinai, Svendsen served as professor and co-director of the University of Wisconsin Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center and Director of the National Institutes of Health-funded Stem Cell Training Program. He is author of over 150 scientific publications, and senior editor of the Encyclopedia of Stem Cell Research. In December, Svendsen and the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute received a $3.7 million National Institutes of Health grant to provide five leading laboratories with the adult stem cells to be used in the development of potential therapies to understand another fatal neurodegenerative condition Huntington's disease.
The Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute brings together basic scientists with specialist clinicians, physician scientists and translational scientists across multiple medical specialties to translate fundamental stem cell studies to therapeutic regenerative medicine. The Institute is housed in new state-of-the-art laboratories designed for stem cell and regenerative medicine research. At the heart of the Institute is a specialized core facility for the production of pluripotent stem cells capable of making all tissues in the human body from adult human skin biopsies. Cells produced within the Institute will be used in a variety of Cedars-Sinai Medical research programs, currently focusing on understanding the causes of and finding treatments for diseases of the brain, heart, eye, liver, kidney, pancreas and skeletal structures, as well as cancer and metabolic disorders.