With the motto Advancing Science to Heal the World the BU stem cell scientists who founded the Center for Regenerative Medicine(CReM) could be pegged as starry-eyed idealists or scientific superheroes. Or perhaps a bit of both.
CReM codirectors Darrell Kotton, Gustavo Mostoslavsky, and George Murphy have established themselves as venturesome researchers who are willing to share their discoveries with almost anyone. And they do it for free—bucking the prevailing trend to patent, publish, and protect scientific breakthroughs. The trio’s “open source biology” is just one of the things they teach to the next generation of stem cell researchers at CReM.
Open source biology can seem antithetical to scientists in an extremely competitive field. One young researcher training at CReM recently approached Kotton, a School of Medicine professor of medicine, seeking advice on how to answer an outside request for a vial of stem cells that took several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants to develop. The obvious answer, the trainee assumed, was to tell the researcher to wait until the discovery was published (…)
Kotton, Mostoslavsky, and Murphy met as Harvard postdoctoral fellows in the lab of renowned stem cell scientist Richard Mulligan, who is famous for his rigorous research and forthright style of mentorship. “It was more of a sink-or-swim methodology, where you really had to prove yourself,” says Murphy, a MED assistant professor of medicine. “Coming out of there, we were battle-tested and bombproof.”
The three gravitated toward each other as “scientific soul mates,” Mostoslavsky says. Long after fellow researchers had left the lab, they would gather for late-night pizza and animated discussions, probing one another’s data to test the strength of their work. “We were each other’s worst critics as well as biggest fans,” Kotton says. It was around that time that they began toying with the idea of conducting science their way—in a meticulous, yet open and collegial manner.
After completing his Harvard fellowship, in 2006 Kotton returned to MED, where he had done a fellowship previously, to launch his own lung stem cell lab. He confesses to “putting psychological pressure” on his friends to follow him to BU, and he is not at all unhappy that it worked. In 2008, Mostoslavsky came aboard, creating his own lab. He was followed soon after by Murphy.
Several events conspired to launch CReM on the Medical Campus. The founders discovered a strong advocate in David Coleman, Wade Professor and chair of the MED department of medicine, who emphasized the importance of a robust research presence on the Medical Campus. Kotton, Mostoslavsky, and Murphy had followed closely the rapid advance of stem cell biology since 2006, when scientists at the University of Kyoto developed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) by reprogramming an adult differentiated cell. A tinkerer at heart, Mostoslavsky was fascinated by the Kyoto process, but felt he could go one better. In 2008, he developed a more efficient tool to generate stem cells, called the stem cell cassette (STEMCCA). BU patented the tool, which has become industry standard.
In 2010, with STEMCCA and multiple publications under their belts, the trio established a virtual Center for Regenerative Medicine, with its own website, seminar series, and iPS cell bank carrying branded labels. All this was accomplished while working in separate labs, with Murphy’s and Mostoslavsky’s divided by floors within a building, and Kotton’s located across the street.
As the number of stem cell biologists, physician-researchers, and biomedical engineers grew on both BU campuses, the affectionately labeled CReM brothers felt it was time to pitch a physical center to BU President Robert A. Brown, who firmly backed the idea. Boston University and Boston Medical Center invested jointly in the endeavor, and in November 2013, CReM opened in its newly remodeled space on the second floor of 670 Albany Street.
CReM’s mission is to advance stem cell research and regenerative medicine for the treatment patients, in particular those at BMC, with diseases such as cystic fibrosis, emphysema, sickle cell anemia, and amyloidosis. Investigators collect blood or skin cell samples, usually from patients at the Alpha-1 Center, theCenter of Excellence in Sickle Cell Disease, and the Amyloid Center, and reprogram them into iPS cells (…)