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Progress reported in stem-cell projects

ALBANY -- Almost halfway through a $600-million state program supporting stem cell research, eight medical schools around New York are reporting progress on projects such as replicating liver cells and eradicating leukemia cells.

A new report from Associated Medical Schools of New York updates work at the institutions where hundreds of researchers are starting to unravel causes and potential treatments for conditions ranging from autism to heart disease and cancer. Stem cells are self-renewing and have the ability to develop into other types of cells.

The Mount Sinai School of Medicine reported finding a method of transforming human skin cells into stem cells and turning those human stem cells into heart cells. Those findings are expected to result in a better understanding of how heart disease develops and allow initial testing of new treatments on stem cells before they are used on human subjects.

Dr. Ihor Lemischka, director of the Black Family Stem Cell Institute at Mount Sinai, said recreating heart cells in a dish from a patient with LEOPARD Syndrome, a disease caused by a genetic mutation, has opened avenues for researching the disease and screening potential drugs.

"It was a major achievement," Lemischka said. The shared research facility at Mount Sinai supports the work at 80 different labs.

The Empire State Stem Cell Program was intended to fund projects in early stages, including those that initially have been unable to get federal or private funding. Grants have also been used for capital projects like renovating labs and establishing new stem cell centers.

The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx reported replicating liver cells that could help reduce the need for liver transplants using live donors and cadavers.

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