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Rebels' cause: adult stem cell
Foundation led by corporate leaders

Premium content from Austin Business Journal - by Sandra Zaragoza, ABJ Staff
Friday, June 3, 2011

A new foundation aimed at elevating awareness of adult stem cell research and therapy is getting off the ground in Austin.

MedRebels Foundation, which counts Austin-based SpineSmith LP as its major contributor, was launched in February with a mission to eventually provide millions of dollars for research funding, education and advocacy for adult stem cell-focused medicine.

The young organization has three board members: Chairman Kevin Dunworth, founder of SpineSmith Partners and Celling Technolgies; Hal Katz, a partner in the law firm Brown McCarroll LLP; and Steve Melchiode, president of SpineSmith and Celling Technologies.

Right now, SpineSmith’s Celling Technolgies, which is involved in regenerative medicine, is working on more than 30 adult stem cell projects, from product development to clinical research.

MedRebels’ “mission is to make adult stem cells available at the point of care, anywhere that it shows efficacy,” Dunworth said. “We see the cells as a common modality to work to cure a lot of things.”

MedRebels is led by Executive Director Shay McBurney, the foundation’s only employee. She plans to make one hire and open an office by the end of the year.

McBurney declined to specify a budget, but said that donors are funding MedRebels’ operational costs on a monthly basis.

MedRebels is the latest adult stem cell foundation to be established or backed by for-profit entities. Four years ago, New York-based NeoStem Inc. [AMEX:NBS] founded the Stem for Life Foundation to support research and promote public awareness of the potential of adult stem cells. Last year, Stem for Life attracted a $1 million donation from the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture to fund research with adult stem cells. The Roman Catholic Church approves of this type of research because it is an alternative to using embryonic stem cells.

MedRebels Board Member Steve Melchiode said that the foundation is not a nonprofit arm of SpineSmith, but rather a collaborative foundation that will be made up of other adult stem cell-related companies and nonprofit partners. Cytori Therapeutics Inc., a maker of regenerative medicine-based products, and technology company Gazzang are a few of the foundation’s early supporters.

McBurney said MedRebels will seek grants to support its research initiatives.

A top priority for MedRebels is educating the public about what adult stem cells can do. These stem cells, sometimes derived from fat cells, have the potential to develop into many different cell types, such as muscle cells or red blood cells. The medical community is using adult stem cells in various procedures with the goal of repairing, replacing or restoring damaged tissues or organs, MedRebels said.

MedRebels’ name is a nod to how many believe stem cell therapy is revolutionizing medicine.

“Adult stem cells will change the world,” McBurney said.

McBurney said MedRebels is working to enlist board members and donors throughout the country who have an interest in adult stem research and the burgeoning field of regenerative medicine.

Although MedRebels is a startup, McBurney said she’s been pleasantly surprised by the interest from those inside and outside the medical community.

The organization relied on volunteers and help from supporters to host a launch party on the 55th floor of The Austonian on May 26. Plans call for two fundraisers to be held this fall, McBurney said.

Because MedRebels’ operational costs are supported by its donor base, the foundation will be able to put 100 percent of the money it raises into its programs. MedRebels hopes to raise $200,000 by the end of this year. It takes several millions to fund an adult stem cell research project.

Dunworth also wants MedRebels to play an advocacy role on a national level to address what he sees as a lack of clarification from the federal government regarding using adult stem cells. The organization is working with two local lobbyists.

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