Stem Cell Researcher: Labs are Like a Small Business

Erika Bach, PhD

NYU School of Medicine, Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

Stem cells are often considered the future of medicine, but much is still unknown about how they work.

That’s why Dr. Erika Bach and her team are closely studying basic, universal properties of stem cells. They are working to identify the stem cells’ home, or niche in the body, and better understand what makes stem cells move through active and dormant states. Improved knowledge of the behavior of stem cells in their natural environment —the body, versus a petri dish— will help researchers in the future make discoveries that are more biologically sound and medically relevant, said Dr. Bach.

This important work is made possible thanks to New York State’s Stem Cell Science (NYSTEM) program, which has funded work in Dr. Bach’s lab since 2008.

The lab was doing very little work on stem cells before NYSTEM, she said, and now they are making real strides to answer essential questions about stem cells with implications for their use in medical treatments.

“It’s hard for me to overstate the amount of work NYSTEM has fueled in our lab—between how many people it’s allowed me to train, how many peer reviewed manuscripts it’s allowed me to publish so other researchers can learn about my discoveries, and how many additional grants it’s allowed me to apply for from NIH,” said Dr. Bach.

But the continuation of that research is in jeopardy without additional funding.

“Running a lab is like a small business, it’s highly dependent on cash flow,” said Dr. Bach. “If you don’t have the money for salaries, you can’t do the research. A lab can’t run on fumes.”

New York is currently one of three states in the nation (alongside California and Massachusetts) that has recognized the enormous potential of stem cell research to deliver clinical breakthroughs and spur economic growth, and has invested public funds in this research.

“If state funding does not continue, New York will lose. All of the discoveries, the launching of companies, will happen elsewhere,” said Dr. Bach. “Research always pays off.”