Houston Methodist recently opened a lab designed to accelerate the development of new, lifesaving treatments for a broad spectrum of conditions, including cancer, heart disease and neurological disorders. The Ann Kimball & John W. Johnson Center for Cellular Therapeutics, located in the Houston Methodist Outpatient Center in the Texas Medical Center, was created with a generous philanthropic commitment from longtime Houston Methodist supporters Ann Kimball and John W. Johnson. Their transformational gift supports scientific leadership and research funding for the 5,000 square-foot lab, research program and Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) production facility where new therapies and investigational therapeutics will be developed.


Cell therapy involves implanting or infusing live cells into a patient to help slow or cure a disease. These cells originate from the patient or a donor and can help with repair and renewal of damaged tissues or rejuvenate dysfunctional cells. With applications for almost every major disease, including cancer, heart disease, and neurological diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, cell therapy is one of the most promising treatment options available.


Dr. Stanley H. Appel leads the JCCT after 15 years as chair of the Stanley H. Appel Department of Neurology and more than 40 years as a practicing neurologist at Houston Methodist. In his newest post, Appel serves as director of the center and dedicates his time to Houston Methodist’s ongoing cell therapy projects, supporting physicians and researchers as they discover and design new therapies that benefit patients.


“Many diseases have limited or ineffective therapies, so there is a tremendous need and opportunity to bring transformative and restorative new treatments to patients through cell therapy,” said Appel, who holds the Peggy and Gary Edwards Distinguished Endowed Chair in ALS research. “Having a cellular therapy laboratory on-site at Houston Methodist has always been a part of our vision. The Johnson family’s generosity and support of this vision will give hope to countless patients battling neurodegenerative diseases and more.”


ALS patient Jack McClanahan was the first to donate his blood for research in the JCCT. The 69-year-old restauranteur drove from his home in Sinton, TX, to be part of research history, he said.


“I volunteered for this because I want a younger man or woman with children to have a chance – this is a devastating disease,” McClanahan said. “If there’s any hope to help others, I just want to be part of it.”


The JCCT also includes 1,710 square feet of cleanroom space, a dedicated quality-control laboratory, support spaces and material, equipment and cryogenic storage required for cGMP operations. Six independent production rooms furnished with cutting-edge equipment, allow investigators to translate laboratory discoveries into innovative cellular therapies for patient care. Combined with a fully equipped, in-house quality-control laboratory for comprehensive testing and release of products, the facility has the ability to deliver new investigational cellular therapies to patients in the safest, most efficient manner.


Longtime supporters of Houston Methodist, John “Johnny” W. Johnson, chair of the Houston Methodist Foundation board, and his wife Ann, know their gift has the potential to transform medical innovation at Houston Methodist and beyond.


“The multidisciplinary impact that a cellular therapy lab like this can have is what made us want to bring this center to life at Houston Methodist,” said Johnson. “Ann and I felt called to be a part of creating a lab that could ultimately accelerate new experimental treatments in cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders and more -- diseases that affect the day-to-day lives of so many people. We feel confident that the teams at Houston Methodist will advance progress in treating these diseases.”


The JCCT will benefit medical research throughout Houston Methodist, including its six Centers of Excellence which include cancer, cardiovascular, neurology, organ transplantation, orthopedics and, ultimately, gastroenterology. Key projects supported by the center include immunotherapy for ALS; stem cell therapy for organ rejuvenation, cartilage and bone restoration; cancer immunology; and heart and vascular cellular therapeutics.


A portion of the Johnson’s gift created a matching fund to support cell therapy projects in all specialties. To date, the Johnson Center Challenge Initiative has attracted 51 total donors, who include 24 founding members providing support for cell therapy research. 


Click here for more information about the Houston Methodist Ann Kimball & John W. Johnson Center for Cellular Therapeutics.