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Spotlight: Dr. Paula Grisanti, CEO

By Matthew Moore

Dr. Grisanti is CEO and a founding member of the National Stem Cell Foundation (NSCF), headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky. She holds a DMD and MBA from the University of Louisville and has been actively involved in entrepreneurial activities for most of her career.

She currently serves as a member of the Delta Dental of Kentucky Board of Directors and the Louisville Metro Board of Health, an officer of the International Women’s Forum Kentucky Chapter, a member of the Health Network Advisory Team for Greater Louisville, Inc., and a member of the Jewish Family and Career Services Advisory Committee. She was Business First’s 2018 Health Care Hero in the category of innovation and a Business First Enterprising Women honoree in 2022.

NSCF funds promising adult stem cell research and clinical trials, underwrites the National STEM Scholar Program for middle school science teachers nationwide, and covers co-pays and deductibles for children of limited means participating in clinical trials for rare diseases. They
actively partner across all three platforms and look for opportunities to break down silos and build collaborations that may change thinking in a field of study.

NSCF partners with large national organization to co-fund research in four focus areas: neurodegenerative disease, autoimmune disease, rare child disorders, and regenerative repair. Funding partners have included the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the National MS Society, the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation, and NASA. Current or previously funded institutions include Duke, Harvard, the Hospital for Special Surgery, Northwestern University, the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute, Scripps Research, Stanford, UCSF, UNC Chapel Hill, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, University of Louisville, and the University of Wisconsin.

They are currently funding a bi-coastal collaboration between leading experts in the field of Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis for a first-in-kind study of neurodegeneration on the International Space Station (ISS). Cell interactions can be observed in space in a way not possible on Earth, opening the door to the discovery of new therapeutic options for currently incurable diseases. A grant from NASA will cover spaceflight costs for a fifth launch later this year.

NSCF invests in education and workforce development through the National STEM Scholar Program, a partnership with The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science on the campus of WKU. The program provides advanced STEM training, national network building, “big idea” project support, and yearlong mentorship for science teachers motivating students at the tipping point of lifelong science interest – middle school. There are currently 80 Scholars in 33 states who will have collectively impacted more than 104,000 middle school students in the U.S. by June 2023. Ninety percent teach in public schools, 40% teach in midto-high poverty schools, and 36% teach in towns with a population under 15,000. Twelve are in Kentucky.

In 2017, NSCF established a Patient Advocacy Fund in the Pediatric Transplant and Cellular Therapy (PTCT) program at Duke University that speeds research to cures by covering insurance co- ays and deductibles for children participating in clinical trials for rare diseases when those out-of-pocket costs are beyond a family’s means. Children from all over the U.S. and around the world travel to PTCT for access to clinical trials for rare diseases that are responsible for 35% of all deaths in the first year of life. These are children with no other treatment options and often limited financial resources. To date, more than 200 children have accessed the fund for critical gap funding.