Stem-cell biologist Mahendra Rao, who resigned last week as director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), has a new job. On 9 April, he was appointed vice-president for regenerative medicine at the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF), a non-profit organization that funds embryonic stem-cell research.
Rao left the NIH abruptly on 28 March, apparently because of disagreements about the number of clinical trials of stem-cell therapies that the NIH’s intramural CRM programme would conduct. The CRM was established in 2010 to shepherd therapies using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) — adult cells that have been reprogrammed to an embryonic state — into clinical translation. One of the CRM’s potential therapies, which will use iPS cells to treat macular degeneration of the retina, will continue moving towards clinical trials at the NIH, although several others were not funded. NIH officials say that the CRM will not continue in its current direction, but the fate of the centre’s remaining budget and resources is undecided.
Rao says that he wants to move more iPS cell therapies towards trials than the NIH had been willing to do. He has already joined the advisory boards of several stem-cell-therapy companies: Q Therapeutics, a Salt Lake City-based neural stem cell company he co-founded; and Cesca Therapeutics (formerly known as ThermoGenesis) of Rancho Cordova, California, and Stemedica of San Diego, California, both of which are developing cell-based therapies for cardiac and vascular disorders.
Rao says that his initial focus at the NYSCF will be developing iPS cell lines for screening, and formulating a process for making clinical-grade cell lines from a patient’s own cells.