2021 Honorees include Joseph P. Vacanti, MD, NFL Alumni Health, the Klein Family (Bob, Danielle and Rob),  Feng Zhang, PhD and the Global Immunization Action Network Team (GIANT)

Winston Salem, NC  – June 2, 2021 – On June 18, 2021 at 7:00 PM EDT,  Regenerative Medicine Foundation (RMF) will broadcast the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Action Awards as part of  the virtual 16th annual World Stem Cell Summit (WSCS) and Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and RMF’s  Regenerative Medicine Essentials Course, taking place June 14-18, 2021.

Bernard Siegel, Executive Director of Regenerative Medicine Foundation and founder of the World Stem Cell Summit, said, “Through the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Action Awards, outstanding individuals and organizations are recognized for their devotion to improving health and developing cures through advocacy, innovation, leadership, education and inspiration. This year’s distinguished honorees are truly an inspiration who have made remarkable contributions to the field. Notable achievements made even more impressive, under the cloud of the global pandemic.”

Meet the 2021 Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Action Award honorees:

Advocacy Award: NFL Alumni Health 

Founded in 1967 by a small group of successful retired NFL players, NFL Alumni Association (NFL Alumni) is one of the oldest and well-respected retired player organizations in professional sports. More than 15,000 former NFL players are connected with NFL Alumni. In 2020, NFL Alumni launched NFL Alumni Health to expand its efforts to improve the health and wellness of NFL Alumni members, as well as the general community, through informational resources, programs, and services, in line with its mission which includes “Caring for Kids,” “Caring for our Own,” and “Caring for the Community.” NFL Alumni Health activities include its collaboration with CDC to raise awareness of the benefits of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.  NFL Alumni Health has also launched a program to educate its membership—and the public—about the potential benefits of regenerative medicine and cell-based therapies, and the questions patients should be asking as they seek out safe, effective and approved treatments. The very future of contact sports in America might depend upon the long-term treatment of our heroes of the gridiron and NFL Alumni Health leads the way.

Leadership & Advocacy Award: Bob Klein, Danielle Klein, Rob Klein

A new multi-billion dollar California ballot initiative to fund stem cell research for better treatments and cures for chronic diseases and illnesses was on the ballot in 2020. All the pundits said it couldn’t be done; it just wasn’t the time. Against all odds, and during a world altering pandemic, Proposition 14 not only qualified for the November ballot; but, it was passed, authorizing $5.5 billion in new funding for the continued operation of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The California agency’s research funding had already led to over 90 clinical trials, and 3,000 peer reviewed published discoveries. However, its funding had been exhausted, leaving highly promising research without the support needed to make it through vital stages of basic research, therapy development, and clinical trials, so that this research will fulfill its principal purpose of benefiting the patients that so desperately need the therapies that will result.

The entire Klein family provided essential leadership. Bob, Danielle and Rob Klein are a family of patient advocates who have made it their mission to ensure funding for stem cell and genetic therapy research remains a priority. Bob and Danielle served as Co-Chairs, and Rob served as the President of the campaign. Prop 14 would have never passed without their tenacity and devotion to the cause. They credit the initiative’s passage, in large part, to endorsement from over 100 patient advocacy groups, and a dedicated campaign team fighting for better treatments and cures for their families and loved ones. California, and indeed the world, will be the beneficiaries of longer, healthier lives due to the stem cell and regenerative medicine research and therapies that will be enabled by the passage of Prop 14.

Pathfinder Award: Feng Zhang, PhD 

Feng Zhang is a molecular biologist who has developed novel molecular technologies for studying the brain. He pioneered the development of CRISPR-cas9 as a genome editing tool and has substantially expanded the use of new CRISPR tools, including RNA-targeting CRISPR-Cas13 systems and CRISPR-associated transposon systems, which can be used for gene insertion. One day, CRISPR might be harnessed to treat and possibly cure debilitating medical conditions such as Sickle Cell Anemia, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Huntington’s Disease, HIV and cancers. Zhang is currently a core institute member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as well as an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the James and Patricia Poitras Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, and a professor at MIT, with joint appointments in the departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering. Zhang is also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

James Valvano, founder of Huntington’s Disease advocacy organization WeHaveAFace.org said, “We know firsthand how it is to live with this horrific disease and witness our family members gain their HD Warrior Wings. Dr. Zhang’s tireless efforts in harnessing the technologies within the CRISPR toolbox is remarkable, and truly sets the stage for future life saving treatments. As patients and caregivers of an international organization, WeHaveAFace.org will continue to support stem cell and gene editing methodologies. Patients and families around the world have been waiting for a non-pharmacological approach that would make imperative changes for all disease-oriented groups. We have faith and hope that patients will be saved from the devil of all diseases. We are so blessed to have pathfinding researchers like Dr. Zhang in the trenches with the Huntington’s disease community.”

Education Award: Global Immunization Action Network Team (GIANT)

The Global Immunization Action Network Team (GIANT) works to improve global public health outcomes by combating vaccine hesitancy through effective, sensitive, science-based communication and education. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, their extraordinary team has provided important, credible and factual information for people and communities to embrace immunization with trust and confidence. Without health literacy, public health will fail. GIANT presents a novel and timely topic to the World Stem Cell Summit agenda, Health Literacy: Stem Cell Science, Vaccine Development & Confidence in the Age of the Covid Pandemic and Infodemic.  GIANT’s educational efforts are extending beyond just vaccinations. According to William Remak, senior advisor and coordinator at GIANT, “As stakeholders in the public health crusade to curb suffering, we could not stand by and let the difficulties and inhumanities continue without at least making an effort and taking steps to address the pandemic.”

Lifetime Achievement Award: Joseph P. Vacanti, MD

Dr. Joseph Vacanti is Surgeon-in-Chief and Chief of Pediatric Surgery at Mass General Hospital for Children. He is also Director of the Pediatric Transplant Program and co-director of the MGH Center for Regenerative Medicine. He has been active in clinical innovation and research in the field of regenerative medicine for more than three decades. Dr. Vacanti continues to study the creation of artificial organs using a biodegradable polymer scaffold to develop and shape tissue. He has authored more than 275 reports, more than 65 book chapters, and holds more than 80 patents or patents-pending in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan for his work in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. He received the John Scott Medal, awarded by the City of Philadelphia, and more recently, the prestigious Flance-Karl Award, presented by the American Surgical Association. As well, he began the nation’s first liver transplantation program specifically for the pediatric population. Dr. Vacanti was a founding co-president of the Tissue Engineering Society, now named the Tissue Engineering Regenerative Medicine International Society (TERMIS). RMF recognizes his lifetime of dedication and genius.

Since 2005, the nonprofit RMF (formerly Genetics Policy Institute) has recognized the stem cell and regenerative medicine community’s leading innovators, leaders, and inspirational champions through its annual awards ceremony. Some of the luminaries and organizations that have received Stem Cell Action recognition have included leaders in philanthropy, advocacy, education and policy including: the then former Vice-President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden (cancer initiative), Michael J. Fox,  Brooke Ellison,  Sabrina Cohen, Sherry Lansing, Bernie Marcus, Ret. Major General Bernard “Burn” Loeffke, A. Alfred Taubman,  Susan Solomon, New York Stem Cell Foundation, National Association of Biology Teachers, Japanese Society for Regenerative Medicine, The Cure Alliance, Research!America, JDRF, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, Hadassah, Huntington Disease Grassroots Community, ALS Worldwide and the Parkinson’s Action Network, among many  other worthy individuals and  groups.

To learn more about honorees, past and present, please visit: https://www.worldstemcellsummit.com/stem-cell-action-awards/

About the Regenerative Medicine Foundation (RMF)
The nonprofit Regenerative Medicine Foundation fosters strategic collaborations to accelerate the development of regenerative medicine to improve health and deliver cures. RMF pursues its mission by producing its flagship World Stem Cell Summit; honoring leaders through the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Action Awards; publishing The World Stem Report with our journal partner, Stem Cells Translational Medicine; and promoting policy and educational initiatives. For further information about RMF please visit: http://regmedfoundation.org/

About the World Stem Cell Summit (WSCS) 
Produced by the non-profit Regenerative Medicine Foundation (RMF), this year’s World Stem Cell Summit will take place through a virtual forum during the combined 16th annual World Stem Cell Summit (WSCS) and Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and RMF’s  Annual Regenerative Medicine Essentials Course, June 14-18, 2021. The Summit is the most inclusive and expansive interdisciplinary, networking, and partnering meeting in the stem cell science and regenerative medicine field. With the overarching purpose of fostering translation of biomedical research, funding, and investments targeting cures, the Summit and co-located conferences serve a diverse ecosystem of stakeholders. For more information about the upcoming World Stem Cell Summit and to register for the Summit and awards ceremony,  please visit: www.worldstemcellsummit.com.

Media Contact:
Joseph Dawson
Communications Director
Regenerative Medicine Foundation