Irv Weissman to step down as director of institute

Over $15 million raised to establish Director’s Fund for successor


October 1, 2021

By Christopher Vaughan

Irv Weissman, MD has announced that he will step down as director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine after 17 years at the institute’s helm. Dean Lloyd B. Minor, MD, has convened a stellar committee to conduct a worldwide search for Weissman’s replacement, and a Scientific Advisory Board of renowned stem cell scientists has been assembled to offer their perspectives about what kind of director the institute needs to build on the outstanding successes that Weissman has overseen. Although Weissman will step down as leader of the institute, he will continue to be an active member of the Stanford faculty and will continue pursuing research in his own laboratory.

“Whenever you hear that an academic leader of an entity is stepping down to (take your choice) a: spend more time with family, or b: devote more attention to his/her research, the real reason is usually that he/she got canned for something unmentionable,”  Weissman joked. “But in this case, I really am stepping down to devote more attention to my stem cell research and its clinical translation, starting with novel approaches to treat women with metastatic breast cancer with curative intent.”

Weissman has been director of the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine since it was first established in 2004 as one of five new institutes created by Philip Pizzo, MD, then dean of School of Medicine. The institutes were created as entities in which multiple disciplines and fields could interact to promote the generation of new knowledge and the translation of those ideas into clinical treatments. 

Over nearly two decades, Weissman has brought together outstanding scientists who have performed stem cell transplantation, gene editing, and treatment of precancerous clonal stem cell diseases. Members of the institute have dramatically improved our understanding of the epigenetic events underlying stem cell self-renewal. And they have provided targets for cancer therapies and possibly other systems of pathogenic clones in the brain, arteries, and fibrotic organs. 

Under Weissman’s directorship, the institute also created–and currently oversees–an interdisciplinary graduate program in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. This was the first graduate program in the US dedicated exclusively to stem cell science, which stood apart from programs that grew out of departments of developmental biology. 

Moving forward, the institute’s paramount objective will be to advance the research, training, and clinical translation of stem cell science that began under Weissman’s dedicated leadership and has come to define the institute to this day. Finding the best person to carry on and expand upon what Weissman began will be key to the continued success of stem cell science and regenerative medicine at Stanford.

A significant part of the recruitment effort will be gathering the critical funding to enable the new director to pursue the institute’s many priorities and opportunities. To this end, the Office of Medical Center Development is raising a Director’s Fund in Weissman’s honor to help attract the most exceptionally qualified candidates internationally. Thus far, over $15 million has been raised from five donors, including most recently Irv Weissman himself. So inspired were Irv and wife Ann Tsukamoto-Weissman, PhD by the generosity of the other four donors that they have given $10,000,000 toward the Director’s Fund.

“We’re incredibly honored by the support of our institute friends to help facilitate a highly competitive recruitment for our new director and excited to contribute ourselves to help ensure the institute’s future success,” Weissman said.

Senior Associate Director of Development Christine Bauer emphasized the hope that this initial funding should be the nucleus for more donations.  “Irv is an important father of the field of stem cell biology and regenerative biology, and an incomparable visionary leader and mentor to many who are now in industry and or have leadership roles in academia around the world,” she said. “We hope institute friends and alumni will be eager to step forward and participate in honoring Irv in this way,” Bauer said.