Marcus Center for Cellular Cures at Duke to Tackle Autism, MS, Stroke

The Marcus Center for Cellular Cures at Duke University School of Medicine has been established to bring together physicians and faculty across medicine and engineering at Duke to develop cellular and biological therapies for autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, and related brain disorders. The center is named to recognize the generous support over a number of years from The Marcus Foundation, an Atlanta-based philanthropic organization.

Mary E. Klotman, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, announced the launch of the new center today and named Joanne Kurtzberg, MD, Jerome S. Harris Professor of Pediatrics and director and chief scientific officer of the Robertson Clinical and Translational Cell Therapy Program at Duke, as director of the center. Ravi Bellamkonda, PhD, Vinik Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering, and Geraldine Dawson, PhD, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, were named associate directors of the center.

The center, in partnership with the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke, will expand upon past and current work at Duke funded by The Marcus Foundation, including a recent study led by Kurtzberg and Dawson that used children’s own cord blood cells as an experimental therapy for autism and cerebral palsy.

The new Marcus Center will focus on four areas:

  • Clinical trials to develop and evaluate cellular and tissue-based therapies
  • Learning to harness the body’s own mechanisms used for cellular repair
  • Manufacturing and delivery of cells, tissues, and biomaterials
  • Creation of non-invasive imaging to monitor cell distribution and function inside the body.

“This center, enabled by the generosity of The Marcus Foundation, will allow us to bring cellular therapies into 21st century medicine,” said Dr. Kurtzberg. “It represents the culmination of over 3 decades of work at Duke in transplantation and cellular biology, and it will be a catalyst to continue to accelerate the translation of these discoveries into the clinic.”

Dawson noted, “There currently are no FDA-approved biomedical treatments for autism. Our goal is to develop effective treatments that can significantly improve outcomes for individuals with autism and other developmental disorders.”

Bellamkonda added, “Duke engineers are excited to be a part of the new Marcus Center and will help develop novel technologies for cell manufacturing and scale-up, co-transplantation biomaterials designed to enhance cell survival and phenotypic stability, and novel non-invasive imaging techniques to monitor and optimize cell therapies and cures.”

Established by Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of The Home Depot, The Marcus Foundation has a long-established interest in autism, stroke, cerebral palsy and other neurological conditions, and in stem cell research. The foundation focuses on biomedical research projects that are close to clinical application that may bring novel therapies to bear on disorders without existing treatments.