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Stanford’s Laboratory for Cell and Gene Medicine aims to ‘cure the incurable’

When you read about initiatives like Stanford University’s new Laboratory for Cell and Gene Medicine, it’s difficult to think of too many other places on Earth where more exciting — and potentially life-changing — work is being done.

Opened in September, the 25,000-square-foot facility is currently attacking a number of the world’s most challenging medical problems. As laboratory director Dr. David DiGiusto puts it, it’s all about “curing the incurable.”

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“Many diseases cannot be cured with conventional therapies that are palliative only in nature,” laboratory director DiGiusto told Digital Trends. “Other diseases have no effective treatments at all. Our mission is to develop and test cures for incurable diseases using cell and gene therapy. We are currently working on cancer, monogenic disease (i.e., SCID, sickle cell, and other immune deficiencies), and regenerative medicine [like] dermatology, neurosciences, and cardiovascular medicine.”

The lab is currently carrying out a range of exciting projects in its “clean rooms.” These include sheets of genetically corrected skin that can be given as skin grafts to patients suffering from the blistering skin disease epidermolysis bullosa, in which layers of skin don’t adhere properly to the body. There are also projects to regenerate corneal cells in the eye, repair mutations in blood cells, genetically engineer immune system T cells to fight cancer, and more.

As DiGiusto points out, these efforts have the possibility to “end great suffering if ultimately successfully commercialized.”

While there are other laboratories around the U.S. working on projects like cell-based approaches to cancer, what is impressive about Stanford’s efforts is the massive scale. A bit like legendary research facilities such as Xerox PARC — where much of the technology behind the personal computer revolution was invented — there are so many interesting projects being carried out at the Laboratory for Cell and Gene Medicine that it’s difficult to name them all.

Suffice it to say that if you hadn’t heard of the lab before now, that will almost certainly change over the coming years.

“There are now quite a few academic manufacturing facilities supporting [similar] efforts but most are working on only two or three products,” DiGiusto said. “Stanford has a broad portfolio of candidate cell and gene therapies that we will likely have eight to 10 products in the queue at all times. Because Stanford has the basic science, translational, and manufacturing capability, and 2 hospitals focused on clinical research — Stanford Health Care and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital — we have a tremendous infrastructure in place to develop and test a wide array of candidate therapies. The magnitude of the effort is quite significant.”