The Methuselah Foundation has launched the New Organ Liver Prize as a part of the World Stem Cell Summit (WSWC) taking place this week. The aim of the prize is to spur one or more research groups to create functional tissue engineered livers from a patient's own cells and demonstrate their utility in animal studies by the end of 2018, five years from now.
Research prizes like this one work by through a combination of raising awareness, convincing more scientists to work on a particular problem, and motivating greater investment from both new and established funding sources in order to meet the prize goals. This is a long-proven method of invigorating and speeding fields in which progress is comparatively slow: there are many examples of successful research prizes both in recent years and past centuries.
The following missive from the Foundation arrived in the mail today to accompany the New Organ Liver Prize official launch:
This prize has been in the works for a long time, and we couldn't have done it without your enthusiastic support. Thank you! This launch is a victory for all of us, and we warmly invite you to share and celebrate the good news with everyone in your networks.
After much consideration with our scientific advisors, we decided to start with a liver-focused prize, and we intend to follow this up with a prize series that covers all the major solid organs, including the heart, kidney, and lungs. We're also working to mobilize other granting institutions to allocate additional funds in support of teams competing for the prize.
Here's what WSCS founder Bernie Siegel had to say: "Growing a whole, healthy organ is one of the ultimate goals of regenerative medicine. The world stem cell community enthusiastically supports the ambitious aim of the Methuselah Foundation in launching the New Organ Liver Prize and the mobilization of this competitive challenge for researchers to cure disease and alleviate human suffering through tissue engineering."
The New Organ Liver Prize is the first in a series of whole organ challenges and awards designed to help solve the global organ shortage, which affects millions of people around the world. There are presently over 120,000 on the organ wait list in the U.S alone, many of whom will die before finding a compatible donor. Even those fortunate enough to receive an organ in time face ongoing medical difficulties, often for the rest of their lives.
New prospects for whole organ regeneration, engineering, and preservation offer potentially powerful solutions to this health crisis, but tissue engineering research is currently underfunded, receiving less than $500 million annually in the U.S. compared to $5 billion for cancer and $2.8 billion for HIV/ AIDS. Neither the NIH nor the NSF provide significant funding for whole organ tissue engineering, and the field also suffers from difficult regulatory hurdles as well as broader shortfalls in biotechnology investment for pre-clinical research.
New Organ has been endorsed by prominent doctors and scientists across the field of regenerative medicine, including Dr. Anthony Atala of Wake Forest, Dr. Stephen Badylak of the University of Pittsburgh, and the Founding Fellows of TERMIS (Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society).
"Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering are at the cusp of conquering the final frontier, the fabrication of vital organs to definitively solve the organ donor shortage," said Dr. Joseph Vacanti of Massachusetts General Hospital. "New Organ will help catalyze the efforts to solve the remaining problems to bring this life saving technology to all of the people who desperately need it."
Due to the complexity of defining strong competition criteria for each of the solid organs, including the heart, kidney, and lungs, this prize will focus exclusively on tissue engineering solutions that replace the liver. Ultimately, the Methuselah Foundation intends to develop a prize series that covers all of the major solid organs, and that spans multiple strategies, including organ regeneration, repair, replacement, and preservation. Through its New Organ Alliance, Methuselah also hopes to mobilize other granting institutions to allocate additional funds in support of teams competing for the prize.
The New Organ Liver Prize rules (PDF) are also worth looking over, especially if you've been following the development of this initiative over the past couple of years.
Type of Host:
Large mammal (specifically pig, cow, rabbit, dog, cat, sheep, baboon, or rhesus); excluding all rodents (rats, mice, etc.).
A minimum of 90 days survivability.
Any bioengineered tissue solution is allowed.
No immunosuppression is allowed if using animal cells; immunosuppression will only be allowed if using human cells.
A minimum of 3 successful trials are required.
A minimum of 3 out of 4 trials must be successful (75% success).
The animal must survive the duration of the 3-month survival trial and during the last month of the trial must exhibit specific liver functions and "lifestyle" functions.
The trials must be completed by December 31st, 2018.
The team's trials will be evaluated by a technically-proficient and fully-independent judging committee.
The first team to meet all requirements will win the $1,000,000 award.