Top stem cell scientists advise on the institute’s future

Owen Witte, MD, director of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Institute, lead the advisory board.

April 23, 2020

In early April, eight esteemed stem cell researchers, along with Stanford faculty and administration, gathered via Zoom to learn about the institute and to advise the dean and institute faculty about the course that should be charted to for a bright future. 

Institute Director Irv Weissman convened this Senior Advisory Board (SAB) in large part because, at the age of 80, he is edging toward leaving behind his administrative tasks so he can, over the next decade, work out several research projects. He sought advice for any course corrections and initiatives because he wanted to create the conditions that will allow the institute to continue its record of high-impact research and clinical translation. 

“Our community is committed to continuous improvement, so I am deeply grateful to the Senior Advisory Board for sharing with us their insights about the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. “I’m proud that the Board recognized the Institute as world-class by every measure — especially our researchers’ unique ability to not only make exciting discoveries but to translate them. These extraordinary efforts embody our mission to advance care locally and globally.”

The SAB was chaired by Owen Witte, MD, director of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center. The SAB also included Amy Wagers, PhD Co-Director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute; Janet Rossant, CC, FRS, FRSC from the University of Toronto; Rusty Gage, PhD President of the Salk Institute; Rudolf Jaenisch, PhD, from, MIT and the Whitehead Institute; Sean Morrison, PhD, director of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern; Deepak Srivistava, MD from UCSF and President of the Gladstone Institute; and Lorenz Studer, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology at the Sloan Kettering Institute. Dean Minor also attended the meeting.  

“After hearing presentations and reading background materials on institute activities, the SAB agreed that the basic and translational work driven by institute faculty is of exceptionally high quality,” Witte said. “We felt that the institute is a premier center operating at the highest level, by every metric.”

The SAB looked at how to foster and develop the institute’s impressive work. The advisory board members also examined challenges for the future, such as funding of the institute and expanding research space, as well as searching for a new institute director when Irv Weissman steps down. 

“This is a great institute, with a great leader — it’s built up a reputation,” Rossant said. “I would say there should be an international search for a new director.” Rossant said that even if someone from Stanford ends up being appointed as the new institute director, such a search helps validate whomever is finally chosen. 

Although Weissman and other faculty members had been looking forward to having the SAB members physically gather at the Lokey Building for the meeting, they were pleased with how the meeting went, even with everyone teleconferencing from home.  “We were extremely grateful to have the opportunity to get ideas and input from such a distinguished and intelligent group of stem cell researchers,” Weissman said. “Their advice can’t help but set up the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine for an even more formidable future.”