Moving the Needle
Cell Therapy Pushes Medicine Into the Next Frontier
Moving new drugs from the lab to the patient’s bedside can require billions of dollars and take decades. The Ann Kimball and John W. Johnson Center for Cellular Therapeutics at Houston Methodist, which opened in May 2022, eases the costly, time-consuming and logistically complex clinical translation of cell therapies.
Cell therapy uses cells from patients’ bodies to combat their conditions and holds promise for diseases ranging from cancer to ALS to arthritis. “What can cells do when they are given back to a patient as therapy?” asks Dr. Stanley H. Appel, the Peggy and Gary Edwards Distinguished Chair in ALS Research and director of the Johnson Center. “Number one, they can repair. Number two, they can regenerate. Number three, they can form new tissues.” Translational research to develop these therapies occurs across Houston Methodist. To evaluate the safety and efficacy of these “living drugs” in people, Dr. Appel notes that a researcher must grow the cells and expand them in a sterile facility. “That process keeps things safe for patients and provides data necessary for further approval,” says Dr. Appel. “That is what we have in the Johnson Center.” Without the Johnson Center, promising therapies might stall before being tested in patients. “Thanks to Ann and Johnny and gifts from 72 other benefactors, as well as Houston Methodist’s investment, we have a sterile facility and the funds to enable scientists to bring their treatments to fruition,” says Dr. Appel. In one project, Francesca Taraballi, PhD, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery, is expanding mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow and fat for a clinical trial to investigate the ideal cell type for joint repair. Whether validating the utility of stem cells for osteoarthritis in a gold-standard clinical trial or manufacturing lymphocytes to slow ALS progression, the Johnson Center serves a vital purpose. “It ensures that all the novel therapies developed align with Houston Methodist priorities,” says Dr. Appel.
The Johnson Center will benefit medical research throughout Houston Methodist’s six centers of excellence:
Dr. Mary and Ron Neal Cancer Center DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center Lynda K. and David M. Underwood Center for Digestive Disorders Neurological Institute Orthopedics & Sports Medicine
Click here to view a listing of the 73 generous benefactors who have given to the Johnson Center