Stem cell research at Duke gets boost from $10.2 million gift

An internationally known pioneer in using umbilical cord stem cells will research novel cerebral palsy treatments thanks to a $10.2 million gift to Duke University.

The money from the Robertson Foundation will establish a Translational Cell Therapy Center at Duke for cell-based treatments, notably the work of Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg. It is the latest large donation from private sources to advance medical research at local universities.

Kurtzberg has used umbilical cord cells to treat cancer and genetic disorders in children. In many cases, infusions of cord blood have reversed and even cured otherwise fatal disorders. Kurtzberg has recently begun using the once-discarded material in hopes it can also mend brain damage in children diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

"I don't think we'd be able to do this research without this grant," Kurtzberg said. "When you are doing work at that cutting edge, you don't have enough preliminary data to get funding in traditional ways."

Dr. Victor Dzau, chancellor for Health Affairs at Duke, said the Robertson Foundation gift will speed new cell therapies to patients. In addition to funding Kurtzberg's cerebral palsy study, the money will establish a specialized laboratory where therapeutic cells can be made and stored, benefiting cell scientists throughout the medical center.

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