May 14, 2008 — The $25 million gift from Ruth L. and David S. Gottesman to Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, one of the largest in its 53-year history, will support several important research projects, most of them to be conducted in the new Michael F. Price Center for Genetic and Translational Medicine/Harold and Muriel Block Research Pavilion, which officially opens in June 2008. The specific benefits of the gift to Einstein, as well as to the patients who will be helped by the resulting research and training, are as follows:
• Exploring the basic biology of stem cells — discovering, for example, how a human embryonic stem cell develops into a liver cell rather than a brain cell — is crucially important if stem cells are to be used to treat a wide range of devastating human diseases. Einstein researchers are at the forefront of this inquiry, and the Gottesman gift establishing the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Research will help them achieve their research objectives.
• Already, for example, Einstein professor Eric Bouhassira is well on the way to directing human embryonic stem cells to form blood-forming cells (which could save the lives of cancer patients needing transplants of compatible blood-forming cells), and to form adult red blood cells (for people needing blood transfusions). In the area of regenerative medicine, the Einstein Liver Center is conducting pioneering research to cure liver diseases and inherited disorders such as hemophilia by implanting cells that will multiply and restore patients’ damaged or diseased organs or tissues.
• With some 20 of its scientists studying epigenomics, Einstein ranks as a leader in this exciting new field, which the National Institutes of Health recently added to research programs it funds that are “expected to have exceptionally high impact.” Epigenomics is the study of the vast network of chemical “marks” inside our cells that control the expression of our genes, turning them on and off at certain times and in certain tissues. These chemicals, which latch onto our genes but can also be removed, comprise our “epigenomes” and affect our lives in crucially important ways. Scientists now believe that many complex diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and autism, result from epigenomic changes that cause gene regulation to go awry. Altered epigenomic marks have also been found in every type of cancer that researchers have examined.
Dr. Greally, an internationally recognized expert in epigenomics and head of the new Center for Epigenomics at Einstein, has developed a novel method for “mapping” the most important epigenomic marks: the methyl molecules present throughout a person’s genome. He has used this method to detect the methylation patterns that characterize breast tumors and other types of cancers. Thanks to the resources that the new epigenomics center offers, Dr. Greally and his colleagues can now devise therapeutic strategies aimed at erasing the epigenomic marks that cause cancer and other diseases.
• A portion of the Gottesman gift will greatly enhance Einstein’s efforts to impart clinical skills to its students. Teaching medical students the basic skills of clinical examination — how to communicate with patients and take their histories, for example — is crucially important in training new doctors. Up until now, Einstein has lacked a single, stand-alone clinical center where its medical students could master such skills. When the new facility is built, Einstein will have the state-of-the-art training facility that it needs.