UCI awarded $3.5 million for stem cell research

February 16, 2007

Irvine, Calif., February 16, 2007 -- UC Irvine scientists were awarded $3.5 million in the first wave of stem cell research funding from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), its governing board decided today.

Six UCI projects - with focuses ranging from muscular dystrophy to mitochondria - were selected by the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC) for two-year Scientific Excellence through Exploration and Development (SEED) grants.

"CIRM support of UCI faculty underscores the strength of stem cell research in our institution," said Hans Keirstead, co-director of UCI's Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center. "UCI is unique in having a large number of both basic stem cell researchers and individuals skilled in translating basic discoveries to the clinic. These qualities are essential for speeding basic discoveries to the clinic."

The ICOC approved about $45 million for 72 projects intended to bring new ideas and new investigators to the field of human embryonic stem cell research. The grants were selected from 231 applications from 36 California institutions totaling more than $138.3 million. Grant funding is subject to review and modification by CIRM.

The six UCI scientists:

Vincent Procaccio, assistant professor of pediatrics, was awarded $623,500 to study the role of mitochondria in enabling human embryonic stem cells to develop into desired cell types. Mitochondria, which have their own DNA, are the power plants that create energy for cells. Procaccio plans to create human embryonic stem cells with mitochondrial DNA mutations that cause human disease and examine their growth into neurons. His goal is to help determine if the ability of human embryonic stem cells to generate into desired cell types declines due to mitochondrial dysfunction. If this hypothesis is confirmed, procedures for protecting mitochondria will be developed to greatly increase the therapeutic potential of human embryonic stem cells.

Kyoko Yokomori, associate professor of biological chemistry, was awarded $623,500 to study the chromatin structure formed at DNA sequences linked to a form of muscular dystrophy. She plans to develop human embryonic stem cells associated with the disorder and compare them to normal human embryonic stem cells during skeletal muscle differentiation. The research is expected to further scientific understanding of the origin and physical progression of the condition as well as to possibly develop therapies for patients suffering from the disorder.

Grant MacGregor, associate professor of developmental and cell biology, was awarded $623,781 to identify ways that female reproductive cells can be grown from human embryonic stem cells. Methods to generate embryonic stem cells that are compatible with a patient's immune system usually involve the transfer of the nucleus from a patient's cell into a donated human egg cell from which the genetic information has been removed. Because of a shortage of donated human egg cells available for biomedical research, an urgent need to identify alternative sources exists.

Charles Limoli, associate professor of radiation oncology, was awarded $625,617 to use human embryonic stem cells to replace somatic stem cells depleted during the course of cancer radiotherapy. The goal will be to hasten the recovery of irradiated tissue. He also plans to assess the risk of tumor growth when human embryonic stem cells are implanted into healthy tissue or when tissue is compromised by irradiation. Understanding the cancer risks associated with the therapeutic use of human embryonic stem cells is poorly understood and critical for the field to move forward.

Thomas Lane, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, was awarded $425,594 to better understand how to repair the nervous system damage that occurs in diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Lane plans to evaluate the potential of stem cells in initiating and maintaining repair of diseased nerve tissue with the goal of treating humans.

Brian Cummings, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, was awarded $619,223 to better understand the effect of immunosuppressive agents on stem cell proliferation in the central nervous system. Stem cell therapies hold great promise for the treatment of a wide range of diseases, but transplanting them into a patient often requires doctors to suppress a patient's immune system. Currently, transplanting multipotent stem cells into the injured central nervous system often results in poor cell survival.

The second round of CIRM research funding - up to $80 million over four years - is scheduled to be awarded in March. The ICOC plans to grant these funds to as many as 25 accomplished scientists with ongoing projects studying human embryonic stem cells.
UCI is at the forefront of stem cell research. It is home to the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, which promotes basic and clinical research training in the field of stem cell biology. More than 60 UCI scientists use stem cells in their current or planned studies. These scientists study spinal cord injuries, brain injuries and central nervous system diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and Huntington's.

About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,800 faculty members. The second-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.7 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

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University of California - Irvine

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