Letter from CSCI Director: Year in Review

Dear Colleagues,

It is my great pleasure to write this letter to recapitulate the first year of existence of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative (CSCI) v2.0 and to highlight some exciting new events that will happen next year.

CSCI v2.0 Year 1

Let me start by thanking all of you for your support and commitment to CSCI. It has been a great pleasure working with you and getting to know you all both as scientists and colleagues.

As you may remember, my first order of business when I arrived at Columbia was to reach out to the broad community to present my vision for the stem cell program, and to hold what I called “open talks” with question & answer sessions and TED-like talks by faculty interested in membership. As a result, we had 24 labs register as full members and 14 labs as affiliated members, numbers which continue to increase with the interest of new groups to join CSCI. Concurrently, we developed a new website (https://www.stemcell.columbia.edu/) to inform the community, built two strong core facilities (refocused Stem Cell core and new Flow Cytometry core) to provide access to essential state-of-the-art technologies, released our first Seed Fund call for application to help jump start new innovative research directions, and started our programmatic activities, including a monthly seminar series with invited national and international leaders in the stem cell field, bi-monthly work in progress (WIP) talks by trainees from CSCI labs to learn about the ongoing science happening on campus, and monthly happy hours to encourage informal gathering and community building. In late April, we also held our first CSCI scientific retreat, a very successful two-day off-site scientific and networking event that concluded my first year at the helm of the Stem Cell Initiative. We were also rather successful in obtaining corporate sponsorship to strengthen our connections with biotech companies and vendors, and support our programmatic activities.

All of these accomplishment really emphasized the coming together of a very involved, diverse and highly innovative community with research interests ranging the whole gamut of stem cell biology from pluripotency and reprograming for disease modeling and drug screening, to tissue bioengineering for regenerative approaches, and somatic stem cell studies for organ maintenance and development of new treatments to fight cancer, degenerative diseases and aging. In addition to its founding focus on neuronal stem cells, CSCI v2.0 has now grown bigger and bolder with exciting new work on blood, heart, intestinal, bone, prostate and retinal stem cells, among others.


CSCI v2.0 Year 2 - Looking Ahead

Next academic year, we have many additional events to look forward to, along with the ongoing programmatic activities that will further mature like the WIP talks, seminar series and seed fund applications. My goal is to continue building CSCI into one of the premiere stem cell programs in the country by recruiting new faculty members, increasing the membership, extending services and activities provided to the stem cell community, and starting fundraising and outreach activities.

Reaching out to CSCI trainees - to involve students, postdocs, staff members, etc. in the life of CSCI. My focus during the first year was on faculty, but it is clear that interactions and collaborations start at the level of trainees working in each of the CSCI labs. To foster interactions and provide needed resources, a CSCI Trainee Council composed of 10 diverse members was created after the retreat, and will be in charge of spearheading new trainee activities like managing a list serve for reagent requests and information exchange, posting blogs for introducing lab and research techniques, running focused technology or career advice workshops, planning some fun trainee activities, etc.

Opening of the new CSCI headquarters - in the remodeled 11th floor of the William Black Building. The construction work has finally started and is expected to be completed by February/March 2019, with a move-in date (still to be determined) in the spring. This relocation will bring together the CSCI administration team, the two CSCI core facilities and at least 5 research labs (including Drs. Ding, Yazawa and Passegué labs) in a dedicated space with a large boardroom for CSCI programmatic, fundraising and outreach activities.

Recruitment of new junior CSCI faculty members - to strengthen and/or add new scientific directions to CSCI. As you know, we already attempted to recruit last year but did not end up making offers. Next year, we are aiming at recruiting 2 new junior faculty members, likely through a more integrated and exciting 2-day recruitment symposium that will involve the entire community.

First International Stem Cell Symposium - to substitute for the CSCI retreat next year and celebrate the opening of the new CSCI headquarters. This is the perfect opportunity to bring internationally recognized stem cell leaders to visit our program and serve on our scientific advisory board. We are planning an exciting 1-1/2 day on-campus event likely for the fall of 2019 to not overlap with the actual move into the new space in the spring. Rest assured that the CSCI retreat will return the following year, likely as an every other-year event alternating with an international Stem Cell Symposium.

Launch of new fundraising & outreach initiatives - to increase the visibility of the Stem Cell program and promote bigger community building. Several dedicated fundraising events are already being organized by the development office in the fall, including a Stem Cell dedicated Doc-Talk and a Stem Cell focused event within the Precision Medicine capital campaign. More will likely follow as additional outreach activities like the upcoming International Stem Cell Day (October 10, 2018), which will be geared toward communicating with the general public. We will also continue nurturing our very valuable interactions with our corporate sponsors.

These are just a few examples of what will happen the next academic year, which will also include our yearly lottery for NYSCF free registration, and maybe some of our first CSCI sponsored T32 training grant and P01 program project applications. Please stay tuned, since I cannot stress enough how much your involvement and participation to CSCI activities is contributing to the success of the Stem Cell program.

Please also take time to complete our first CSCI survey to tell us more what you think about the current CSCI programmatic activities and how we can improve them further.


Much looking forward to another very exciting year ahead.