Stem Cell Research Targets Cancer, Lung Disease

Mar 29, 2013

Lifespan Hospital system’s growing research complex in Providence’s Jewelry District will benefit from a large National Institutes of Health grant to open new labs and fund new projects. Some of that research could translate into new treatments for Rhode Island patients.

Rhode Island Hospital researcher Jason Aliotta in his lab
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Projects in Lifespan’s newly funded Center for Biological Research Excellence (COBRE) labs range from developing a new way to diagnose concussions to learning how to fight drug-resistant prostate cancer. Researcher Jason Aliotta is investigating the potential of stem cell parts to reverse a rare but often fatal disease called pulmonary hypertension. Right now, he says, that research is still in mice.

“And the hope is that with good data we can translate this research into human research.”

The tiny particles Aliotta studies, called microvesicles, were once thought to be junk left behind by stem cells. He’s found that they can actually be pumped into sick tissue and cure it. If the research makes it beyond animal models, the technique could help millions.

“However worldwide, millions of people are affected by the disease. And folks that have this disease develop progressive shortness of breath, heart failure, and without treatment within three years most folks die from this disease. And it’s a disease that affects young folks. The average age of onset is 36 years.”

Aliotta’s project is one of several underway in the Lifespan Hospital system’s new Center for Biological Research Excellence in Providence’s Jewelry district. The center brings together stem cell researchers and experienced mentors. The goal is to help basic research move from the lab or animal experiments into human trials.