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Education Philanthropy Gates Summer Internship Program Mentoring

Gates Summer Internship Program Marks 10 Years of Mentorships and Discovery

When the Gates Summer Internship Program (GSIP) launched in 2015, the field of regenerative medicine was at a pivotal moment, with recent developments in cell and gene therapy being heralded by the scientific community.

Pediatric Cancer    Blood Cancer    Leukemia    Cancer    Oncology    Cell and Gene Therapy    Medical Oncology    Hematology

Getting to Know Maureen O’Brien, MD, MS

Maureen O’Brien, MD, MS, recently joined the faculty of University of Colorado Anschutz School of Medicine as a visiting professor in the Department of Pediatrics Section of Hematology/Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation. With support from Gates Institute and in collaboration with colleagues leading the adult leukemia programs, O’Brien will develop and help lead a campuswide high-risk leukemia program. This program will facilitate the implementation of early-phase clinical trials for pediatric and adult leukemia, including cellular therapies developed with the Gates Institute.


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date June 20, 2024
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Cell and Gene Therapy    Biotechnology    Bioengineering

Navigating Operational Complexities in Phase I GMP Cell Therapy Manufacturing: A Compliance Perspective

In the rapidly evolving field of cell therapy, the transition from research to clinical application is filled with challenges, particularly within Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) production during first-in-human, early-phase clinical trials. These trials set the groundwork for both safety (primarily) and efficacy (secondarily) as therapies advance toward commercialization. Understanding the operational intricacies involved in manufacturing cell therapy products for these trials is crucial for stakeholders, including sponsors, innovators, investors, and regulatory compliance professionals.


Author Nidhi Kotecha | Publish Date June 11, 2024
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Cell and Gene Therapy    Biotechnology

Gates Institute Taps Leading Biotech Experts for New Advisory Board

Five individuals with biotechnology expertise have been recruited by Gates Institute to form a new scientific advisory board.  They will provide strategic and scientific input to guide specific cell and gene therapy programs, with a focus on increasing patient impact, prioritizing near- and long-term goals, and exploring new platforms, said Gates Institute Executive Director Terry Fry, MD.


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date June 10, 2024
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Education    Philanthropy    Gates Summer Internship Program    Mentoring

Gates Summer Internship Program Marks 10 Years of Mentorships and Discovery

When the Gates Summer Internship Program (GSIP) launched in 2015, the field of regenerative medicine was at a pivotal moment, with recent developments in cell and gene therapy being heralded by the scientific community.


Author Carie Behounek | Publish Date June 04, 2024
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Research    Patient Care    Orthopedics    Regenerative Medicine    Health Science Radio podcast

Multi-Campus Effort Aims to Regenerate Arthritic Joints

Osteoarthritis, a painful degenerative disease that affects 32.5 million Americans, slowly degrades buffering cartilage until joints grind together bone-on-bone. With no existing effective regenerative therapy, treatments are limited to anti-inflammatory injections and, ultimately, expensive joint replacement surgery.


Author Chris Casey | Publish Date April 19, 2024
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Research    Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy    Organ donation

From Organ Donor to Clinical Research Expert

From an early age, Cheri Adams, program director of regulatory strategy at the Gates Institute, knew she would pursue a career in medicine. But it was her experience as an organ donor that led her to a career in clinical research.


Author Mary Guiden | Publish Date April 02, 2024
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Research    Cancer    Advancement    Cell and Gene Therapy

Nephrologist Aims to Explore CAR T Therapy for Solid Tumors

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy has shown great promise in the treatment of certain leukemias and lymphoma, but results in solid tumors have not been as impressive.


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date March 18, 2024
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Research    Funding    Awards    Cell and Gene Therapy

Project to Rev Up Cancer-Fighting Cells Wins Anschutz Acceleration Initiative Grant

A project to develop a way to boost the effectiveness of cellular cancer therapies, led by the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Associate Director of Cancer Research Training and Education Coordination, Eduardo Davila, PhD, is one of nine research endeavors by CU School of Medicine faculty members to be awarded major funding from the Anschutz Acceleration Initiative.


Author Mark Harden | Publish Date February 02, 2024
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Funding    Cell and Gene Therapy   

Gates Grubstake Fund Awards over $1.4 Million to CU Anschutz Researchers

Gates Institute recently announced four recipients of the 2023 Gates Grubstake Fund. These awards are designed to support investigators who are researching and developing regenerative medicine-related technologies. The awards of up to $350,000 are made annually in a process administered in collaboration with CU Innovations. The fund made awards totaling over $1.4 million to University of Colorado Anschutz researchers in 2023.


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date January 08, 2024
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Cell and Gene Therapy   

Gates Institute Names Navin Pinto as Medical Lead

Navin Pinto, MD, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, has been named medical lead at Gates Institute. In this role, he’ll work in partnership with the Investigational New Drug and Device (IND/IDE) Office to oversee Gates Institute-supported clinical trials, providing expertise drawn from his extensive experience with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy. 


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date January 08, 2024
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Community   

The Latest News About CAR T-Cell Therapy 

As word of the effectiveness of chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR T-cell therapy, for blood cancer continues to spread, excitement is growing about the new treatment and the possibilities it offers for patients with blood cancers and other types of cancer. 


Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date January 03, 2024
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Cell and Gene Therapy

Gates Institute’s Top Stories of 2023

It’s been a banner year for the Gates Institute, which celebrated its launch in May 2023, consolidating the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility with the administrative team of the former Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine as well as the regulatory expertise of the Clinical Investigation and Regulatory Sciences (CELLS) team under one umbrella. The year has seen the launch of a new chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell clinical trial and continued enrollment of three existing CAR T-cell trials. The Gates Institute newsroom detailed these activities, as well as other areas of cell and gene therapy research in the works.  


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date December 21, 2023
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Research    Innovation    CU Anschutz 360 Podcast    Cell and Gene Therapy

CU Anschutz Harnesses Technology and Innovation to Speed Drug Discovery

In the best of cases, taking a new drug from lab to clinic takes about six to eight years, a vast improvement over the roughly 20-year timeline decades ago. Drug development pace and efficiency are leaping even farther ahead, courtesy of quantum computing, artificial intelligence algorithms and 3D tissue printers, especially at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.


Author Chris Casey | Publish Date December 15, 2023
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Pediatric Cancer    Blood Cancer    Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy

Gates Biomanufacturing Facility Deploys CAR T-Cell Process Improvement

Since receiving FDA approval in 2017, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy has shown remarkable success in treating patients with certain blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia. A complex biomanufacturing process is required to produce the therapy, which is performed for each individual patient. The process begins with apheresis, generating a leukopak containing the patient’s white blood cells. From there, T cells are isolated, genetically engineered to create CAR proteins that enable T cells to attack cancer cells, and multiplied in a laboratory. They are then reintroduced to the patient.


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date December 14, 2023
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Research    Retina   

CellSight Contributes Light-Sensitive Retinal Organoids and RPE Cells to New AMD Study

A partnership between ophthalmology researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University expands the understanding of how oxidative stress contributes to the development of choroidal neovascularization (CNV) in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).


Author Kara Mason | Publish Date December 06, 2023
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Heart    Pediatric surgery    Cardiology    Gates Summer Internship Program

Patch May Successfully Treat Congenital Heart Defects

Using laboratory engineered tissue, scientists at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have created a full thickness, biodegradable patch that holds the promise of correcting congenital heart defects in infants, limiting invasive surgeries and outlasting current patches.


Author David Kelly | Publish Date November 27, 2023
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Research    Bone Cancer    Animal    Cell and Gene Therapy

Trial Launched to Test CAR T-Cell Therapy in Dogs Diagnosed With Solid Tumors

Dogs are like humans in many ways, sharing similar physiology as well as biological needs. Our four-legged friends are also vulnerable to some of the same diseases that we face, making the intersection of human and animal medicine an intriguing subject for study.


Author Mary Guiden | Publish Date November 07, 2023
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Research    Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy

Gene Therapy Protocol Could Offer New Treatment for Skin-blistering Diseases

Epidermolysis bullosa (EB) is a skin-blistering disease that can be devastating for those with severe forms of the condition. Research is underway to grow genetically corrected skin by Gates Institute investigators Ganna Bilousova, PhD, and Igor Kogut, PhD, associate professors of dermatology at University of Colorado School of Medicine, in collaboration with Dennis Roop, PhD, professor of dermatology and associate director of the Gates Institute. Their work could lead to effective therapies for EB as well as other diseases.


Author Carie Behounek | Publish Date October 27, 2023
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Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy

Technology Transfer: The Key to Moving Scientific Discoveries Forward

At the surface, technology transfer is exactly what it sounds like; the transfer of technology from one entity to another. When working with your friendly neighborhood cGMP facility (the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility, or GBF), that simple phrase, technology transfer, should take on a whole new meaning.


Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date September 26, 2023
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Research    Blood Cancer    Clinical Trials    Cell and Gene Therapy

Behind the Scenes of a CAR T-Cell Trial

Blood cancers – leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma -- are the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, with more than one-third of patients succumbing to their disease within five years of diagnosis. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy for lymphoma and certain leukemias in patients for whom other treatments had failed. Research has shown that about 85% of such patients achieve remission, but about 60% of these eventually relapse. Gates Institute at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is on the forefront of research to improve the efficacy of this groundbreaking treatment.


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date September 15, 2023
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Research    Cancer   

From Childhood Fascination With Red Blood Cells to Life-Changing Research

When he was 4 years old, Angelo D’Alessandro clearly recalls a cartoon book about the peripatetic nature of red blood cells. Their adventures traveling through the body, visiting the brain, kidneys, lungs, liver, et al., mesmerized D’Alessandro in his native Italy.


Author Chris Casey | Publish Date September 11, 2023
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Gates Summer Internship Program

GSIP: Summer of 2023 Reflections

We hope our students’ individual notes and the photos within this booklet demonstrate the variety of experiences working in Gates Institute
members’ labs. Over 11 weeks, these talented students developed their projects and participated in an array of seminars and events designed to expose them to high-impact opportunities and career paths. They excelled in their laboratory placements and developed friendships and connections with their mentors, fellow lab and Gates Institute staff and our speakers. Ultimately, their contributions advanced medical research on the Anschutz Medical Campus – a fertile environment we hope they will return to for additional study or employment.


Author Jill Cowperthwaite | Publish Date September 01, 2023
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Education    Gates Summer Internship Program

Gates Summer Internship Program Celebrates the Class of 2023

This summer marked the ninth year of the Gates Summer Internship Program (GSIP), which has become a hallmark of Gates Institute’s collective efforts to inspire outstanding college undergraduates to pursue careers in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. GSIP combines lab work, seminars focused on science and medicine, workshops on ethics and professional development, as well as outside activities that allow the interns to experience Colorado beyond the  University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.


Author Jill Cowperthwaite | Publish Date August 16, 2023
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Research    rare disease    Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy    Gates Summer Internship Program

Student With Rare Genetic Condition Searches for a Cure at Gates Institute

Few college seniors can say they are working in a world-renowned lab to develop therapies for a genetic disorder that plagues 1 in 5,000 people worldwide.


Author Carie Behounek | Publish Date July 28, 2023
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Leukemia    Cancer    Clinical Research    Clinical Trials    Cell and Gene Therapy

New CAR T-Cell Trial Enrolling Patients at CU Anschutz

Enrollment has begun for a new phase 1 study of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital for adults with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL). The trial is the first launched through the newly formed Gates Institute, and it will be the fourth for which the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility produces the CAR T product for research at CU Anschutz Medical Campus.


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date July 13, 2023
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Research    Community    ColoradoSPH at CU Anschutz   

Federal Visit Brings Senator, FDA Commissioner to Campus

U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper and Federal Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Robert Califf, MD, visited the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus on June 23. 


Author Matthew Hastings | Publish Date June 26, 2023
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Clinical Trials    Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy

Executive Director Brings Start-up Experience, Biologics Expertise To GBF Leadership Role

Like many start-ups, the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility’s path to becoming sustainable has been full of twists and turns. The facility, known internally as the GBF, was launched in 2015 with no customers and no jobs in the pipeline, but many capital needs. The visionaries at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the Gates Frontiers Fund saw biomanufacturing capabilities as being key to the success of the nascent Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine, and took a leap of faith.


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date June 12, 2023
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Research    Cancer    CU Anschutz 360 Podcast   

Podcast: CU Anschutz Powers Up for Regenerative Medicine Frontier

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is a leader in bench-to-bedside research, and the Gates Institute and Gates Biomanufacturing Facility (GBF) are at the forefront of some of the campus’s most cutting-edge innovations in cell and gene therapy.


Author Chris Casey | Publish Date May 09, 2023
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Research    Community    Regenerative Medicine   

CU Anschutz Takes the Reins in CAR T Cancer Therapy Research

One of the initially scheduled speakers at this spring’s “Transforming Healthcare” series on May 2 bowed out for a more spontaneous event: his own wedding. With his high-school diploma newly in hand and his little-known CAR T-cell therapy giving him time, the young man decided to embrace the future – now.


Author Debra Melani | Publish Date May 08, 2023
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Research    Faculty    Clinical Trials    Giving    Dermatology    rare disease    Regenerative Medicine    Cell and Gene Therapy

Cracking the Code for Once 'Incurable' Diseases

When Dennis Roop, PhD, joined the University of Colorado School of Medicine to lead the Gates Program for Stem Cell Research in 2007, the first postdoc he recruited was Ganna (Anya) Bilousova, PhD, a Ukrainian researcher who had recently completed graduate training in biochemistry at CU.


Author Carie Behounek | Publish Date April 21, 2023
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Research    Faculty    Regenerative Medicine   

Gates Grubstake Fund Awards Over $1.5 Million to Campus Researchers

The Gates Grubstake Fund invokes the memory of Gold Rush prospectors who received seed money, “grubstakes,” for food and supplies so they could search for treasure. The funding supports the work of modern-day prospectors – translational researchers affiliated with Gates Institute – whose work developing cell- and gene-based therapies could make a difference in human lives. In 2022, four awardees received $350,000 each to support their work.


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date March 10, 2023
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Faculty   

Valeria Canto-Soler, PhD: Envisioning a Cure for Blindness

Valeria Canto-Soler, PhD, has an innovative vision for saving and restoring sight in patients with blinding diseases. An associate professor in the CU School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology, Canto-Soler is the director of CellSight, an innovative ocular stem cell and regeneration research program.


Author Kristen O'Neill | Publish Date March 10, 2023
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Research    Regenerative Medicine   

Gates Institute Pushing CU Anschutz to the Forefront in Cell Therapy

Cell and gene therapies (CGTs) are poised to transform the practice of medicine, but further advancement will require close partnerships between academic institutions and biotechnology companies, Terry Fry, MD, executive director of the Gates Institute, told a standing-room-only crowd in the Torreys Peak Auditorium of Bioscience 3 on March 1.


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date March 03, 2023
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Research    Patient Care    rare disease   

Patient With Rare Disease Finds Home at CU Anschutz

Editor’s Note: The joint efforts of the Gates Institute, Children's Hospital Colorado, and the University of Colorado School of Medicine elevate the research, innovation and care for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a collection of difficult-to-treat and debilitating connective tissue disorders. Below, patient Calla Winchell shares how the collaborative effort she found at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus changed her path.


Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date February 24, 2023
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Research    Blood Cancer   

Eric Kohler, MD, PhD, Receives Award to Improve CAR T-Cell Therapy 

Already regarded as one of the country’s leaders in CAR T-cell therapy, University of Colorado Cancer Center member M. Eric Kohler, MD, PhD, has received a $150,000 Scholar Award from the American Society of Hematology (ASH) to investigate a method to make CAR T cells function even better. 


Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date February 24, 2023
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Research    Press Releases   

CU Researchers Awarded $1.3 Million National Science Foundation Grant

Sometimes a scientific collaboration happens by coincidence, a happy accident that serendipitously pairs experts who wouldn’t have otherwise met.


Author Mark Couch | Publish Date September 16, 2022
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Research    Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)    Retina   

CellSight Surpasses Benchmarks Toward Making Retinal Transplants a Reality

Generating retinas from stem cells and transplant technologies to restore human sight felt like just a dream for Valeria Canto-Soler, PhD, associate professor of ophthalmology in the University of Colorado School of Medicine. When she joined the CU Department of Ophthalmology faculty in 2017, she signed on as the inaugural director of CellSight, the department’s ocular stem cell and regeneration research program, setting benchmarks 15 years in the future.


Author Rachel Wittel | Publish Date September 12, 2022
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Research    Retina    Awards   

CellSight Teams Clinch Top Two of Three Awards in National Eye Institute Competition

The University of Colorado Department of Ophthalmology’s ocular stem cell and regeneration research program, CellSight, was awarded the top two prizes in the National Eye Institute’s 3D Retinal Organoid Challenge (NEI 3D ROC). The NEI, part of the National Institutes of Health, launched the three-phase challenge in 2017 to stimulate research using retina organoids. These organoids are similar to human retinas but are grown in a lab from stem cells, enabling researchers to study eye diseases and treatments noninvasively.


Author Toni Lapp | Publish Date September 01, 2022
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Research    Innovation    Patient Care   

The Building of an Enterprise: Regenerative Medicine Poised for World Stage

Diane Gates Wallach has a head for business and a heart for science. When she pursues both – blending her knack for strategy with a desire to better the world – her imagination comes alive. No frontier looks insurmountable when the right talent is involved.


Author Chris Casey | Publish Date July 14, 2022
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Research    Press Releases    Advancement   

Historic $200 Million Commitment to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Fuels Advancements in Treatments and Cures

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus today announced the creation of the Gates Institute, a state-of-the-art facility that will focus on rapidly translating laboratory findings into regenerative, cellular and gene therapies for patients.


Author Julia Milzer | Publish Date May 11, 2022
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Research    Community    Philanthropy   

Pioneer in Cellular and Gene Therapy Saddles Up For New Frontier at CU Anschutz

Fueled by a major investment by the Gates Frontiers Fund, a newly announced Gates Institute on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus will stand ready to transform the frontier of regenerative medicine and cellular and gene therapies in the Rocky Mountain region.


Author Debra Melani | Publish Date May 11, 2022
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Gates Summer Internship Program

The Stepping Stones of Scientific Communication

Communication is the foundation of scientific progress. The greatest advancements made in scientific endeavors occur when scientists are consistently and accurately communicating research findings across multiple levels of complexity.


Author Madison Rogers | Publish Date January 01, 2022
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Research    Patient Care    Magazine   

Driving Revolutionary Advances in Cancer Treatment

“When you lose hope, you lose everything,” says Ron Randolph. “It’s like you’re in the bottom of a hole and you see this light at the top of the hole. It’s a very small light, but there’s no way to escape.”


Author Greg Glasgow | Publish Date November 11, 2021
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Research    Patient Care    Cancer   

Patient Cancer Free After Cell Therapy Created by CU Anschutz

A new clinical trial at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, using cells genetically engineered by medical faculty to fight stubborn cancers, is showing encouraging results.


Author David Kelly | Publish Date February 08, 2021
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Research    Innovation    Patient Care   

Hope Realized

She’s a bright and motivated young woman with an infectious smile. She’s seemingly the picture of perfect health. But, at 25 years old, she wears support braces on her wrists and knees. And sports pain patches, too. Her condition is so painful, in fact, that she can’t sleep. She takes pills for that, she said. 


Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date June 02, 2020
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Research    Patient Care    Press Releases   

Skin Disease Researchers Win Renewed Grants

National leaders in research to cure debilitating skin diseases based at the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have won a second NIH grant to further investigations of innovative treatments.


Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date November 25, 2019
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Campus Life   

Grubstake Awards highlight remarkable return on investment

Pioneering research recognized by the 2018/19 Gates Grubstake Awards underscores promising strides in recent years in guiding basic science at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus toward commercialization and tangible benefits for patients.


Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date June 26, 2019
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Research    Dermatology    rare disease    Regenerative Medicine

CU Anschutz Scientists Awarded $3.8 Million DoD Grant to Manufacture Stem Cell Therapies

Scientists from the  Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine are part of a consortium awarded $3.8 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to move discoveries in stem cell-created skin grafts into the manufacturing stage, bringing further hope to victims of debilitating inherited skin diseases. 

The major grant for the Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) iPS Cell Consortium, which includes research teams from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Stanford University School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center, will move production of stem cells into the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility at CU Anschutz.


Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date April 12, 2018
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Canto-Soler brings visionary aspirations to Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine

When Valeria Canto-Soler, Ph.D., was a biology student in Argentina, she dreamed of a career studying elephants and other African wildlife in their natural habitat.


Author Kathleen Bohland | Publish Date August 30, 2017
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MS, macular degeneration and nanoparticle researchers win Gates grants

The Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and CU Innovations have awarded three researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus $350,000 grants with the hope they will strike scientific gold.


Author Michael Davidson | Publish Date April 18, 2017
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Research    Regenerative Medicine

Seven-year study pays off with ‘most detailed’ picture of head and neck cancer stem cells to date

AURORA, Colo. (Sept. 19, 2016) – Cancer stem cells resist therapy and are a major cause of relapse, long after the bulk of a tumor has been killed. A University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute provides the most comprehensive picture to date of head and neck cancer stem cells, identifying genetic pathways that cancer stem cells hijack to promote tumor growth and visualizing the process of “asymmetric division” that allows a stem cell to create tumor tissue cells while retaining its own stem-like profile. The study is the result of seven years of research and innovation, including the development of novel techniques that allowed researchers to identify, harvest and grow these elusive stem cells into populations large enough to study. This major body of work provides specific targets for the development of new cancer therapeutics.

“We wanted to determine the relationships between key genetic alterations and how head and neck cancer stem cells harness those alterations to drive initiation and growth,” says CU Cancer Center investigator Antonio Jimeno, MD, PhD, the Daniel and Janet Mordecai endowed professor for cancer stem cell research, director of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Head and Neck Cancer Clinical Research Program, and the paper’s senior author. The current project was performed in collaboration with the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine of which Dr. Jimeno is a faculty member. Jimeno started his work with cancer stem cells as a post-doc at Johns Hopkins University, but as he explains, “I focused on head and neck cancer stem cells because there has been an increase in head and neck cancer incidence of about fifty percent over the past ten years in the U.S. and we need to better understand what is at the root of this disease.”

Previously, a major challenge in characterizing cancer stem cells has been gathering a cell population large enough to study.

“There is a lot of ‘noise’ in cells and you need a lot of them because with only a few cells, it’s impossible to tell which of these genetic differences are meaningful features of cancer stem cells and which are just genetic noise,” says first author Stephen Keysar, PhD, research assistant professor in the Jimeno lab.

To solve this problem, the group first gathered tumor samples from a larger number of head and neck cancer patients – 10 patients in all – more than in any previous study. These samples represented both tumors associated with alcohol and tobacco use and tumors caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV).

“It is important to always remember that we were able to make a difference thanks to the generosity of our patients, who enabled us to work with representative cancer models,” Jimeno says.

These tumors were then grown in mice. Subsequently, the group undertook the painstaking process of isolating enough cells for genetic studies and one-by-one transplanting these patient-derived tumor samples onto new mice to study how cancer stem cells initiate tumor growth.

“Sometimes it took a year just to get enough cells to study,” Keysar says.

“Antonio is a great example of perseverance,” says Dennis Roop, PhD, director of the Gates Center and also an investigator at the CU Cancer Center and the individual whom Jimeno credits with ‘much of the philosophy behind this work.’ “Antonio was submitting all these grants, and the reviewers were saying, ‘There’s no way you can do this; there’s no way you’ll get enough cells to characterize.’ He simply found ways to prove them wrong.”

This included leveraging private research funding, primarily from the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine, the Daniel and Janet Mordecai Foundation and the Peter and Rhondda Grant Fund.

“Private funding allowed Antonio to do the groundwork and develop the techniques that eventually made his proposals to the NIH so compelling that he was able to get support. In the case of those of us who are driven to do what we do, you just find a way to get these things accomplished. This is a great example of how bridge funding from the private sector can move research forward,” Roop says.

Here is what the group found:

First, head and neck cancer stem cells are, in fact, distinct from the rapidly dividing cells that form the bulk of tumors, and there is little difference between cancer stem cells in HPV- and HPV+ cancers. Both are marked by CD44 expression and aldehyde activity, and both use the key pathway PI3K to drive their survival, growth and resistance to anti-cancer therapies. The group found that the PI3K pathway, which is the most common alteration in head and neck cancer, then deploys SOX2, a transcription factor, to activate programs that modulate ‘stemness’ within the cell’s nucleus. For example, SOX2 was found to control aldehyde activity, which is a common cancer stem cell marker and a well-known driver of cancer stem-cell-mediated tumor growth.

“In normal cells, PI3K is used as a sensor for energy,” Jimeno explains. “For a cancer cell to act cancerous, it needs metabolic flexibility – it needs to be able to over-use energy – and so this ‘energy sensor’ is a pathway it wants to hijack. After chemo, PI3K helps the cell shut down and weather the storm. Then when the chemo is gone, PI3K helps cancer stem cells start back up again.”

Chemotherapies kill rapidly-dividing cells. PI3K shuts down a cancer stem cell’s metabolism, placing the cell in a dormant state. This gives cancer stem cells the ability to evade the trap of chemotherapy.

So what happens when you remove this ability? When the group eliminated SOX2 in mouse models of head and neck cancer, tumors became sensitive to therapies that previously had failed. But when the group amplified SOX2, tumors became even more resistant.

“This molecular thread from PI3K to SOX2 to aldehyde was responsible for all the features that define cancer stem cells,” Keysar says. Further, “Since SOX2-expressing cells fully behave like cancer stem cells, we now have a new laboratory tool to study cancer stem cell biology and therapeutics.”

The work also allowed the group to witness an event of the stem cell cycle that had, at best, been only partially characterized in head and neck cancer.

“It was like the snow leopard of the Himalayas,” Jimeno says. “We knew it existed because of the tracks, but no one had taken a picture of it – that is, until someone patiently perched on a frozen ridge for two years with a camera. We did just that.”

The event Jimeno refers to is “asymmetric division” of cancer stem cells. When a normal cell divides, it creates two identical copies of itself. However, if stem cells divided symmetrically, it would result in two stem cells but no differentiated cells, or two differentiated cells with the loss of the original stem cell. In either case, symmetrically dividing stem cells would not be able to promote tumor growth while also retaining their stemness.

The group was able to document that when cancer stem cells divide, “they don’t divide into two of the same,” Jimeno says. “One cell retains a stem profile, and the other goes a step beyond into differentiation.”

Overall, this seven-year line of inquiry offered three major advances:  it characterized head and neck cancer stem cells; it documented asymmetric division in head and neck cancer stem cells; and it identified genetic mechanisms that allow these cancer stem cells to grow and resist therapy. Importantly, identifying these genetic mechanisms of resistance may also help researchers and doctors overcome it.
“SOX2 and aldehyde inhibitors are now under exploration, and we’ve also done trials of early PI3K inhibitors here at CU Cancer Center,” Jimeno says.

“This has been an excellent example of team science,” Roop says. “You have Antonio – a brilliant young clinician-scientist – leading a group that includes basic scientists, pathologists, bio-informaticians and statisticians, and their expertise can combine to attack a problem in a way that no individual would be able to do on their own. This work will provide the basis for the development of new therapeutic strategies.”

About the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine 

The Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine was established in 2006 with a gift in memory of Denver industrialist and philanthropist, Charles C. Gates, who was captivated by the hope and benefit stem cell research promised for so many people in the world.  The Gates Center aspires to honor what he envisioned—by doing everything possible to support the collaboration between basic scientific researchers and clinical faculty to transition scientific breakthroughs into clinical practice as quickly as possible.  

Led by Founding Director Dennis Roop, PhD, the Gates Center is a multi-institutional consortium headquartered on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus – the only comprehensive academic health sciences center in Colorado, the largest academic health center in the Rocky Mountain region, and one of the newest education, research and patient care facilities in the world.  Operating as the only comprehensive Stem Cell Center within a 500-mile radius, the Gates Center shares its services and resources with an ever-enlarging membership of researchers and clinicians from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and CU Boulder campus, Colorado School of Mines, National Jewish Health and private industry. This collaboration is designed to draw on the widest possible array of scientific exploration relevant to stem cell technology focused on the delivery of innovative therapies in Colorado and beyond.


Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date September 19, 2016
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Research    Regenerative Medicine

CU Scientists’ Discovery Could Lead to New Cancer Treatment

AURORA, Colo. (Sept. 2, 2014) – A team of scientists from the University of Colorado School of Medicine has reported the breakthrough discovery of a process to expand production of stem cells used to treat cancer patients. These findings could have implications that extend beyond cancer, including treatments for inborn immunodeficiency and metabolic conditions and autoimmune diseases.


Author Guest Contributor | Publish Date September 02, 2014
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Gates Institute In the News

The Denver Post

CU studying use of patients’ own reprogrammed cells to attack cancer as alternative to more chemo

news outletThe Denver Post
Publish DateMarch 14, 2024

A study at University of Colorado’s Gates Institute on the Anschutz Medical Campus is looking at CAR-T in adult patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, whose first round of chemotherapy either failed or gave a disappointing response that suggests it won’t work for long, executive director Dr. Terry Fry said. (The institute is named for rubber manufacturer Charles C. Gates.)

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UC Davis News

UC Davis Graduating Student Poised to Help Those With Rare Condition

news outletUC Davis News
Publish DateDecember 12, 2023

Encouraged by his care team at the Colorado hospital to apply for an internship at the Gates Institute research lab, Mann spent this summer surrounded by researchers helping develop novel therapeutics for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). He worked on an experiment that used cells from EDS patients to grow skin samples for study. The lab is investigating the use of exosomes — secreted by most cells and present in tissues and body fluids — as a vehicle for therapeutic intervention.

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Colorado Bioscience Association

Building a Life Sciences Pipeline: Cell and Gene Therapy Momentum

news outletColorado Bioscience Association
Publish DateMarch 06, 2023

When you talk to Terry Fry, M.D., about why the Gates Institute is one of the best locations in the country to work in cellular and gene therapy, he has a lot of insight. As the executive director of the Gates Institute, a pediatric oncologist, and a pioneer in the development of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapies, Dr. Fry has an intimate understanding of what it takes to get a drug from initial research phases to commercial manufacturing.

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Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

University Creates Innovative Model for Running a GMP Manufacturing Facility

news outletGenetic Engineering & Biotechnology News
Publish DateFebruary 08, 2023

The University of Colorado has adopted an innovative model for running an academic GMP manufacturing facility without extensive endowment funding. The Charles Gates Biomanufacturing Facility is one of only a few GMP facilities able to manufacture cell- and protein-based therapies for both academic researchers and industry.

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