USC recipient of stem cell training grants from California Institute for Regenerative Medicine

September 12, 2005

SACRAMENTO, California--The Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California has received a 3-year, $3.16 million stem cell training grant as part of the first round of grants awarded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

The Keck School's grant was called "very thoughtful" by CIRM's Research Funding Working Group and was one of many grants announced here today during a public meeting of the Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee, or ICOC, the group charged with governing CIRM and the way in which it disperses the $3 billion in funding provided it by the passage of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative in November, 2004.

"This is an exciting moment for the CIRM, as these awards mark the first step in our scientific program of stem cell research--an accomplishment we have been able to achieve in less than one year as a state agency," said Zach Hall, Ph.D., CIRM's interim president. "The CIRM training program established today will be the most comprehensive training program to date in the field. It will provide a pipeline of highly trained basic and clinical investigators for the research that CIRM will fund in California."

"This grant award bodes well for the program we are trying to develop here at the Keck School of Medicine--the USC Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine--and speaks highly of the research being conducted here and at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles," said Brian E. Henderson, M.D., dean of the Keck School of Medicine and a member of the ICOC. "But the truth is that the entire research community, and indeed the entire region, stands to benefit from this funding. It really is an extraordinary opportunity, and I'm proud to be a part of it."

The Keck School's Stem Cell Biology Training Grant will be used to train graduate students as well as post-doctoral and clinical fellows across 27 departments at USC, with trainees being recruited from existing Ph.D. programs at the Keck School and at USC's Andrus School of Gerontology and College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. A team of the institutions' top scientists will come together to teach two new courses: an interdisciplinary course in the social, legal and ethical implications of stem cell work, and a joint course--with Childrens Hospital and the California Institute of Technology--in stem cell biology.

A key feature of the program will be newly developed courses in bioethics, and a unique tri-institutional stem-cell biology lecture course, taught in conjunction with Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and Caltech, that will train students in cutting-edge gene-transfer technology applications in the clinic, medical applications, and current stem-cell research.

The Research Funding Working Group lauded the Keck School's application for "the very high quality of the program director, experience of staff in research training, the commitment of the institution to developing a major effort in stem cell biology, and the substantial pool of high-quality applicants. "

According to Robert Maxson, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and the principal investigator on this grant, the funding will also be used to recruit 16 "highly qualified individuals" to be funded and designated CIRM Scholars, and to "support seminars and retreats that will build a larger community for stem cell research by involving and facilitating collaboration among students and faculty."

Adds Maxson: "We have a terrific group of scientists at Keck and across the University who worked very hard to put this program together. I'm very gratified to be a part of it."

Among the other grantees announced today were The Saban Research Institute at Childrens Hospital, which has been affiliated with the Keck School of Medicine for more than 70 years, and Caltech, with which the Keck School of Medicine runs a highly regarded joint M.D./Ph.D. program. The Childrens Hospital grant is for $2.39 million and combined with the Keck School's $3.16 million, makes USC the largest single recipient of CIRM grant money awarded Friday.

"The biomedical environment and strength of stem cell research at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and the Keck School of Medicine combine to provide a rich milieu for training the next generation of physicians and scientists who will use stem cells as the basis for research and therapy," said Donald B. Kohn, M.D., director of Childrens Hospital's Gene, Immune and Stem Cell Therapy Program and a professor of pediatrics and molecular microbiology and immunology at the Keck School.

"We at the Keck School of Medicine are gratified by our selection as one of the institutions receiving a CIRM stem cell training grant award," added Frank Markland, Ph.D., the Keck School's associate dean for scientific affairs. "The medical school has a number of investigators interested in stem cell research, and this training grant will enable us to pool our resources with Childrens Hospital and with Caltech to offer graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and clinical fellows an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the exciting new developments related to human embryonic stem cell research and the clinical potential of this research.

"The awarding of this grant to the Keck School of Medicine of USC will definitely serve as a stimulus to our stem cell research and recruitment efforts, and will open the door to a whole new arena of research and clinical development in the Southern California area."

University of Southern California

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