Susan L. Solomon, co-founder of the New York Stem Cell Foundation left a career in law and business for science. Her goal: A cure for diabetes.

One day last week, at a lab in New York City, a heart cell was beating in a petri dish under a microscope. It had been made from a stem cell—a building block of the human body whose disease-fighting potential persuaded Susan L. Solomon to leave a career in law and business for medicine.

Ms. Solomon, 64, co-founded the New York Stem Cell Foundation, or NYSCF, in 2005. The foundation’s research institute has gained more notice lately for its breakthroughs in stem-cell research, including how to generate the cells and put them to work against ailments like mitochondrial disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Ms. Solomon came to the field relatively late in life. Born in New York, her father was the founder of Vanguard Records and her mother was a pianist and manager for classical musicians. She started her career in law, moved on to the world of business and finance and then became the chief executive of, the auction house’s online business. In 1999, she left to form her own consulting company so that she could spend more time helping to care for her ailing parents.

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