Ihor Lemischka, PhD
2010 Metcalf Award Winner
"I am greatly honored to have been selected for this award," says Ihor Lemischka, PhD, The Mount Sinai Medical Center. "ISEH has always been a very special organization for me. I’ve been involved for a long time and at one point, it was the only place where we could go every year to discuss stem cell biology." Dr. Lemischka is the Lillian and Henry M. Stratton professor of gene and cell medicine and professor of developmental and regenerative biology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He also serves as director of the Black Family Stem Cell Institute, Mount Sinai’s foundation for both basic and disease-oriented research on embryonic and adult stem cells. Prior to Mount Sinai, Dr. Lemischka spent 21 years at the forefront of stem cell research as a professor of molecular biology at Princeton University. He earned his doctoral degree in the Center for Cancer Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and went on to become a postdoctoral research associate there, followed by an additional postdoctoral fellowship at MIT’s Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.
The move to Mount Sinai has allowed him to do things in a bigger way to further advance his research on the molecular and cellular nature of the undifferentiated stem cell "states" and how such states are altered during a change in cell fate. "Princeton did not have a medical school," Dr. Lemischka notes. "In order to transition to drug therapy and translational study related to human disease, I wanted to be at a research-based medical center." The Black Family Stem Cell Institute website states: "Progress in understanding the implications of stem cell research has been swift. Studies show that it is possible to reprogram adult skin cells into cells that are very similar to embryonic stem cells. Once stem cells can be grown and differentiated in a controlled way to replace degenerated cells and repair tissues, medical science may then be able to diagnose and cure many intractable diseases at their earliest stages, such as type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, various cardiovascular diseases, liver disease, and cancer.
"My Metcalf address in Melbourne will be a combination of several things," Dr. Lemischka says. "I’d like to give a historical perspective on how the field has moved along during my career and how my research has helped address important questions. I’ll talk about qualitative and systems biology, touch on my recently published and yet-to-be-published work, as well as share my very strong personal viewpoint of where we need to go to achieve clinical breakthroughs." Among his research published recently was "Patient-specific induced pluripotent stem-cell-derived models of LEOPARD syndrome," which was featured on the cover of Nature 465, 808-812 (10 June 2010). Dr. Lemischka is happy leading a team working to identify how and when things go wrong at the cellular level in order to learn to interfere with the process or block it to prevent these diseases "I come from a family heavily loaded with physicians, including my father," he recalls. "When I decided to go into the PhD world vs. becoming an MD, it caused considerable consternation with my father and mother. There came the time, however, when my father said to me ‘son, I’m glad you didn’t take my advice and go to medical school. Now I see what an impact your research has for medicine of the future.’ That was truly a special moment for me."