Earlier this year, Haifan Lin, Ph.D., director of the Yale Stem Cell Center (YSCC), and colleagues discovered a potentially unique ability of stem cells: they can avert the damaging effects of stress better than regular cells. Stem cells are biologically valuable because they can both differentiate into other kinds of cells and divide to produce more stem cells. The team’s findings suggest that stem cells are designed to avoid passing on damaged DNA that could cause molecular-level irregularities, like cancer. The research was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

A $1.86 million grant from the Li Ka Shing Foundation made to YSCC earlier this year will help the Center continue similarly innovative research. The grant will help fund new research equipment and strengthen collaborations between Yale and Shantou University (STU), in southeastern China.

The Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-shing founded STU. A self-made billionaire, Li dropped out of high school to help earn money for his family. He has spent his career building his company, which he founded in 1950, into the Cheung Kong Group, now a multinational conglomerate. He established the Li Ka Shing Foundation in 1980 in part to help spur education reforms and medical innovation. His new gift to Yale builds on a gift of $1.56 million made in 2011.

“Training side-by-side with leading scientists in stem cell research will be a transformative experience for the students and faculty at Shantou University Medical College, and I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to Professor Haifan Lin and the YSCC for this amazing opportunity,” Li said.

“Continued support from Li Ka-shing allows us to accelerate the pace and broaden the scope of our work,” says Lin, also professor of cell biology; of genetics; and of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences. “We are extremely grateful to Mr. Li for his generosity,” Lin says.

As YSCC’s founding director, Lin created four core facilities for basic stem cell research and has supported more than 80 research labs at Yale on projects covering a range of critical topics. The YSCC’s core facilities focus on research in human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, cell imaging, genomics, and cell manipulation. In addition to independent research, scientists in these core labs work with researchers across the university who need assistance in any of these areas.

Since its founding in 2006, YSCC resources have contributed to hundreds of research projects at Yale. Just this year, researchers showed how stem cells could be used to create miniature human brain models to better understand autism. Another group tracked stem cell development in mouse hair follicles and found that the cells’ development appeared to be influenced extrinsically by the surrounding microenvironment. Yet another Yale team found that a variant of the gene ccne1 appears critical for reprogramming mature cells.

“Yale is enormously grateful to the Li Ka Shing Foundation for its continued support of basic science, translational research, and scholarly exchange,” said Carolyn Slayman, Ph.D., Sterling Professor of Genetics, professor of cellular and molecular physiology, and deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs. “This grant will help expedite the development of therapeutic treatments for some of the world’s most debilitating diseases.”