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NYSTEM Congratulates Lorenz Studer, Winner of MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for Pioneering Research Into Parkinson’s Disease

Among the 24 winners of this year's MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, announced September 29, 2015, is a researcher who has been an active and generous member of the NYSTEM community since the program began in 2007.

Developmental biologist Lorenz Studer, M.D., is Director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  His lab investigates human stem cells as tools to understand normal and pathological development in the nervous system and to develop cell-based strategies for regenerative medicine. 

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.  Its annual MacArthur Fellows awards provide unrestricted $625,000 fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.

Studer has received awards since NYSTEM’s first round in 2008.  He has received six NYSTEM awards for a total of approximately $23 million, culminating in a consortium award in 2012 for $14.9 million. This most recent grant is funding the advancement of a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease and preparing it for clinical trials – research that is the basis of Studer's MacArthur grant.

“Without NYSTEM support, it would have not been possible to move effectively toward trying to realize our goals of developing a cell therapy in Parkinson’s disease,” Dr. Studer said, “NYSTEM has been an important partner throughout my career – for the Parkinson’s translational work, but also for pursuing many other innovative stem cell-related ideas throughout the last few years.”

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, M.D., J.D., said “[t]hrough NYSTEM, New York has fostered a strong stem cell research community, accelerating scientific knowledge about stem cell biology and the development of therapies and diagnostic methods to alleviate disease and improve human health. As a member of the scientific advisory panel for NYSTEM’s 2015 Strategic Plan, Dr. Studer has been an advocate for others’ research as well as his own. We congratulate him on his MacArthur Fellowship.”

Studer’s other NYSTEM awards are:

  • $1 million awarded in 2008 to launch institutional development of stem cell research, with Studer as principal investigator.
  • $2.7 million awarded in 2008 for a shared facility for stem cell research, headed by Studer.
  • $1 million in 2010 for an investigator-initiated research project titled "Patient-specific human ESCs and iPSCs for modeling Schwann Cell Differentiation and Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease."
  • $1 million, also in 2010, for a second investigator-initiated research project titled  "Modeling Pathogenesis and Treatment of Familial Dysautonomia in patient specific human induced pluripotent stem cells."
  • $1.9 million in 2010 to Studer as principal investigator to provide and lead a five-year postdoctoral fellow training program.

In addition, Studer has been a collaborator on numerous other NYSTEM awards. He also served as a program committee member for NYSTEM annual meetings from 2009-2012.


From the MacArthur Foundation announcement:

Lorenz Studer is a stem cell biologist pioneering the large-scale generation of dopaminergic neurons for transplantation, a breakthrough that could provide treatment for Parkinson’s disease and, eventually, other neurodegenerative diseases. Parkinson’s, caused by the death of dopamine-generating cells in the brain, affects half a million people in the United States and up to five million worldwide. At present, there is no cure.

Studer devised novel protocols for the transition of human pluripotent stem cells into neural and neural crest tissues and for the production of functional, stable dopaminergic neurons in large quantities. Previous attempts to create dopamine-generating neurons were not effective in terms of quantity or quality; the yield was too low for scalability and the neurons that were produced did not function properly, died after transplantation, or proliferated (which could cause tumors). In long-term studies, Studer demonstrated that the cells produced by his method are able to integrate into the brain, function effectively as the substantia nigra neurons that die in Parkinson’s disease, and do not proliferate. When transplanted into animal models, Parkinsonian symptoms significantly improved, giving hope for this replacement therapy as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease in humans.

Studer has also contributed to our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases relating to aging. He established a protocol that uses progerin to age induced pluripotent cells (or pluripotent stem cells generated from adult cells), providing more reliable models of how cells behave in age-related disease. Studer is currently initiating clinical trials for transplantation of dopaminergic neurons for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, and his ground-breaking research is advancing the broader feasibility of stem cell–based therapies for neurological disorders.

Lorenz Studer received a Candidate Medical degree (1987) from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and an M.D. (1991) and a graduate degree (1994) from the University of Bern, Switzerland. He held several research positions (1994–1999) at both the University of Bern and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke within the National Institutes of Health before joining the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he is founding director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology and a member of the Developmental Biology Program. His scientific papers have appeared in such journals as Nature, Nature Biotechnology, Cell Stem Cell, and Aging, among others.