Home to a large number of "firsts," Stanford University School of Medicine is at the forefront of today's ongoing advances in stem cell research and therapy. Indeed it was among the first institutions to successfully translate stem cell research discoveries into patient therapies.

Other milestones include:

  • First in stem cell research : In the 1980s, Irv Weissman's lab at Stanford was the first to isolate stem cells, using the high speed cell sorters that were developed at Stanford. This discovery was translated into the first clinical trials in which patients received cancer free stem cells after their blood forming system had been obliterated by chemotherapy.
  • First to discover and isolate many cancer stem cells: Stanford scientists and incoming faculty were the first to discover and isolate human leukemia and human breast cancer stem cells, and are close to isolating human brain cancer stem cells, human ovarian cancer stem cells, human melanoma stem cells, and human bladder cancer stem cells. Moreover, Stanford researchers have been able to use stem cell research to understand cancer's own ability to regenerate at the cellular level. This discovery represents a seismic leap toward new, more effective, and highly directed cancer treatments that may work without the painful side effects common in cancer treatments.
  • First to discover and isolate tissue-forming stem cells: Stanford has been the site of discovery for most of the tissue stem cells isolated to purity (the human blood-forming stem cells and the human brain-forming stem cells) and with Stanford clinicians (the bone marrow transplant team for blood stem cells, the neurosurgery team for brain stem cells), to transplant them into patients for the regeneration of their lost systems.
  • First to replace blood formation in women with breast cancer: Clinicians in the Stanford Bone Marrow Transplant group led by Karl Blume, MD, were the first in the world to use these cells to replace blood formation in women with breast cancer that had spread unpredictably through the body.
  • First to isolate human brain stem cells: In 2000, human brain stem cells were isolated by a group that included Stanford medical school faculty, and human peripheral nervous system stem cells were isolated by a former Stanford PhD in stem cell biology while doing postdoctoral research at Caltech.
  • First to develop technologies critical to stem cell research: Microarray technology developed by professor of biochemistry Patrick Brown, MD, PhD, in the early 1990s enables stem cell researchers to assess differences in genetic expression between different stages of development and between normal and cancerous tissues. In 2005, the Stanford Microarray Database recorded its 50,000th experiment, marking its place at the forefront of an information processing revolution that has yielded groundbreaking insights into the relationships between genes and illness, as well as fundamental biological discoveries. Researchers also rely on the fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS) developed by Leonard Herzenberg, professor of genetics. Housed in the school's FACS Facility, t his technology enables researchers to identify and extract purified subpopulations of cells from tissue samples. Capable of processing up to several million cells per minute, modern-day sorters are critical to the institute's search for unidentified adult and cancer stem cells.