UW News

October 26, 2006

UW Medicine gets $6 million for stem cell research

By Clare Hagerty & Elizabeth Lowry
News & Community Relations

Orin Smith, retired Starbucks president and chief executive officer, has donated $5 million for the UW’s Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine. Smith, a 1965 UW graduate, is chairman of the board for UW Medicine. UW Medicine also has received a $1 million anonymous gift for stem cell research.

Donating to stem cell research is a good investment, Smith said.

“I can’t think of any other area that offers so much potential and promise to thousands — or millions — of people worldwide,” Smith said.

Smith’s $5 million gift is unrestricted. It may be spent however researchers and the University see fit, he said.

Dr. Paul Ramsey, dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for Medical Affairs, said the gift will help keep UW Medicine at the forefront of stem cell research.

“Stem cell research is advancing rapidly with new discoveries being made every day,” he said. “These generous gifts will help the more than 70 UW researchers involved in stem cell research to stay at the leading edge.”

Speaking at a recent CEO summit in Seattle, Dr. Lawrence S.B. Goldstein, UW alum and professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the University of California at San Diego, noted that the UW needs to keep moving forward with its research.

“You need to do more if you’re going to compete with my institution down in the south,” he said.

Dr. Randall Moon, director of the institute, said that “stem cell research is key to the success of developing new therapies for many diseases and injuries, and Orin Smith’s wonderful and timely support of the institute is really a gift to the patients of today and of the future, who will benefit from these therapies.” Smith noted that the UW already has in place one of the leading stem cell research and regenerative medicine programs in the country.

Progress, he said, in stem cell research and regenerative medicine has been “severely thwarted by federal policies” that state federal funding can only be used for research on certain lines of embryonic stem cells and on adult stem cells. UW scientists have said the existing lines of stem cells eventually will wear out. And adult stem cells, they have said, do not hold the promise that embryonic cells do.

These policies have put “us way behind where we would have been” had researchers been allowed to use new lines of embryonic stem cells for their research, Smith said. If U.S. researchers can’t move forward with stem cell research, then scientists in other countries will, he said.

“Based on the generosity of Orin Smith we can finally begin working with these newer and more promising stem cells,” Moon said.

“The day before Mr. Smith’s gift we were essentially playing baseball with one hand tied behind our back. Now we can play the game as it was intended.”

Details about this research are on the institute’s Web site https://depts.washington.edu/iscrm/.