Inspired by Case Western Reserve University biology professor Arnold Caplan's work with mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) in skeletal research and its potential use in developing treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, Case Western Reserve alumnus L. David Baldwin (B.S. '49, physics) has donated $1.6 million to the College of Arts and Sciences.
His generous support will fund the new L. David and E. Virginia Baldwin Program for Cell-Based Therapy in the department of biology, upgrade undergraduate biology labs, and defray start-up expenses to attract new faculty in physics.
Baldwin wanted to do something to advance the university where small classes had allowed him to know and interact with faculty. He looked to Cyrus Taylor, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, for guidance.
After learning about the college's many areas of research excellence, Baldwin said, "I felt Arnold Caplan's research was very promising. I wanted my gift to make a difference, and his research has shown its potential to have applications in several diseases." MSC research has already gone into clinical trials for diseases such as Crohn's Disease and heart disease.
"We have seen astounding progress made using MSCs for various therapies. Some of these new research results may be used to help rheumatoid arthritis patients," said Caplan. An estimated 2.1 million people in the United States suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that involves episodic attacks by the body’s immune system on various joints.
Caplan is director of the Skeletal Research Center in the biology department. In the late 1980s, he used his knowledge of the scientific literature and developmental biology to suggest that adult bone marrow contained cells that had the ability to differentiate into bone, cartilage, muscle, marrow, tendon/ligament, fat and other connective tissues. Working with other university researchers (Stephen Haynesworth, Stanton Gerson and Hilliard Lazarus), Caplan was able to isolate these rare MSCs and multiply them in cell cultures. Recently MSC research gained the attention of researchers from 22 countries who attended an international conference in Cleveland, August 27-29, to learn how research leaders like Caplan have spearheaded major advances with MSCs.
Through his research, Caplan has come to appreciate an entirely unexpected set of MSC properties. He found that MCSs make and secrete larger quantities of drug-like macromolecules that can both turn down the immune system's T-cell pathway that destroys the body's cells and jump start the repair or regenerative process of injured tissue. MSCs also can "home" into injured sites and trigger the body's ability to repair damage in heart and lung tissue. Because of these possibilities, the gift from Baldwin will also support Caplan's MSC research in the area of asthma and skin and wound healing.
A significant portion of the gift will also be used at the discretion of the Arts and Sciences dean to support start-up costs of new faculty in physics and award a three-year term chair, the L. David and E. Virginia Baldwin Professorship. In addition, the Baldwin gift will defray upgrade expenses to transform the undergraduate labs and accompanying classrooms to top-level electronic classrooms, adding physiology laboratory workstations and replacing 30 dissecting microscopes.
Baldwin's most recent gift continues his generous support of the university through the Case Alumni Association (CAA). The Amherst, N.H. resident and the founder of Frequency Sources, an electronic company specializing in microwave sources, has given nearly $4.5 million through CAA for physics, engineering scholarships and labs, and SAGES (Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship) faculty fellowships.
"David's impact on, and legacy within, the university is great and enduring," said Taylor. "Stem cell therapies for arthritis are a matter of deep personal interest to him. We are grateful for his continued support of our teaching mission through the enhancement and expansion of undergraduate teaching laboratories in biology and funds to assist in recruiting new faculty members in physics."