As soon as he heard the words “stem cell” Lorry I. Lokey said he wanted in. Lokey, the philanthropist and founder of Business Wire, jumped in big time, contributing more than $75 million to help construct the country’s largest stem research building. The Lorry I. Lokey Stem Cell Research Building officially opened its doors today at Stanford, becoming what Lokey calls “the crown jewel” of the scientific world.
“We’re looking 10 years from today, and it’s just possible because of this building and the some of the best brains in the world who inhabit it, that 200 million lives will be extended or saved,” Lokey recently told me.
He believes stem cells will have a major impact on some of the prime killers in the United States, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, thus preventing much human suffering and premature death.
“This is the coming science,” he said, “just as Silicon Valley became the country’s big industry.”
Earlier this week, I stopped by the building and got a glimpse of some of its precious inhabitants – tiny stem cells clinging to the sides of a petri dish like rain drops on a window. The cells I saw were iPS, or induced pluripotent cells, taken from a patient with a rare skin disease and then reprogrammed to behave just like embryonic stem cells. These unique cells have the potential to turn into any kind of cell, with myriad possible applications in human disease. The researcher, Vittorio Sebastiano, PhD, briefly held up the plastic dish with its rare occupants and then carefully placed it back on the shelf in a warm incubator, in reverential fashion. I felt I was in the presence of something very significant.
Some 550 researchers in 33 different labs will move into the building between now and the end of the year. The building also has 60 “hotel” benches, where visiting scientists or clinicians can come and do research as well. They’ll work with the full range of stem cells, including embryonic and adult cell cells, cancer stem cells and disease-specific stem cell lines. These scientists, who hail from all over the world, will have many chances to mix and mingle, tackling conditions as diverse as cancer, spinal cord injury, heart problems and autoimmune disease. Just think of the possibilities.