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New Zealand Honorary Knight gives $10M towards US cord blood work

A foundation established by Julian Robertson, New Zealand’s first honorary knight and prominent philanthropist, has given $10.2 million to Duke University in the USA to advance the use of cord blood as a therapy.

Robertson, who is renowned for his philanthropy and investment in New Zealand, has over the last 15 years developed two luxury golf courses at Kauri Cliffs in Northland and Cape Kidnappers in Hawke’s Bay, and invested in several wineries, including Dry River in Wairarapa and Te Awa in Hawke’s Bay.

Duke University has announced that the donation by The Robertson Foundation will go to support the work of Dr Joanna Kurtzberg who will use some of the funding to move forward with the first placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial in children with (cerebral palsy) that has been specifically designed to answer key questions about the efficacy of cord blood treatments in children with this condition.

To date over 200 children have been reinfused with their own cord blood by Dr Kurtzberg, including New Zealander Maia Friedlander who was successfully treated with her own cord blood at Duke in August 2008. Maia, who suffered oxygen deprivation at birth, has made significant progress. Maia’s cord blood had been stored with CordBank in New Zealand. To view her story go to www.cordbank.co.nz

Dr. Victor Dzau, Duke’s chancellor for health affairs and chief executive of the Duke University Health System, said the state-of-the-art Translational Cell Therapy Center would advance the university’s pioneering cell therapy research and treatment programs for children and adults with cancer, cerebral palsy, stroke and brain injuries suffered at birth. Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg and her research team have spent decades investigating the therapeutic use of umbilical cord blood stem cells, he said.

Umbilical cord blood stem cells, normally discarded after birth, have the ability to grow and develop into various types of cells throughout the body. They can be harvested after birth and stored for future transplant in patients with many types of blood disorders, and increasingly, other diseases as well.

“The emerging field of regenerative medicine has great promise, and this generous gift will accelerate the pace of Dr. Kurtzberg’s and other Duke scientists’ world-renowned, translational work in cell therapies,” Dzau said in a statement.

“The creation of the TCTC will support the work of many Duke researchers exploring various applications of cell-based therapies.”

 “Dr. Kurtzberg’s research reflects the kind of transformational science that has the potential to change the lives of thousands of people throughout the country and around the world,” Julian Robertson, of the Robertson Foundation, said in a statement.

In an interview on CNBC last year, Julian Robertson shared his excitement about the potential of cord blood stem cells, having heard about Maia Friedlander’s treatment at Duke from her parents.

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