UC DAVIS RESEARCHERS AWARDED MORE STEM CELL FUNDS
March 16, 2007
(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — California's stem cell agency has awarded another pair of grants worth an estimated $5 million to UC Davis School of Medicine scientists conducting regenerative medicine research.
Researchers Alice Tarantal and Mark Zern were among 29 scientists receiving approval for grants today from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), whose governing board — the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC) — considered 70 proposals that will focus on human embryonic stem cell research.
Today's grants totaled nearly $75 million and were specifically targeted to support experienced researchers like Tarantal and Zern.
"We are extremely proud of these outstanding investigators and the excellent research that has gone into the successful applications,” said Jan Nolta, stem cell program director for UC Davis School of Medicine. "These grants from CIRM will definitely enhance the field of regenerative medicine so that our patients and many others might be able to benefit from innovative new medical treatments and cures."
Although the amounts of each grant are still subject to revision by the state agency, Tarantal, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Center for Excellence in Translational Human Stem Cell Research at UC Davis, is expected to receive an estimated $2,257,040 over a four-year period. Her research work will focus on how to differentiate human embryonic stem cells into becoming the type of cells needed to regenerate kidneys damaged by disease, something that affects thousands of babies born each year in the United States.
"In California alone, there are over 15,000 people on the current waiting list for kidney transplants and of those, approximately 75 are children under the age of 10," said Tarantal. "The possibility of using stem cells to treat and repair damaged organs offers great hope for improving the survival and quality of life for these young patients."
The ICOC also approved a four-year, $2,504,614 grant for Zern. A professor of internal medicine and director of transplant research at UC Davis, Zern is working with embryonic stem cells and two other cell types to determine which cells are best suited to becoming liver cells for the repair of damaged livers. There are an estimated 20,000 people on the nation's waiting lists for liver transplants.
"Throughout the country, there are simply not enough livers available for everyone who needs one," said Zern. "If we can learn to develop the types of stem cells that could repair damaged livers — liver cells that could divide and grow indefinitely — then we could do liver cell transplantation to replace the traditional, whole organ transplants of today."
Scientists are keenly interested in stem cells because they have the potential to develop into many different cell types in the body, such as liver, kidney, brain or heart cells. When unspecialized stem cells divide into specialized cells, the process is called "differentiation," and understanding what triggers stem cell differentiation and how to direct it to areas of the body are among the key areas of regenerative medicine research.
Both Zern's and Tarantal's research includes a number of tests and modeling experiments to determine whether embryonic stem cells can function as directed and not mistakenly give rise to other cell types or problems such as cancer. They are optimistic that their research can help fill some of the significant scientific gaps in the development of new human therapies using human embryonic stem cells.
Today's grant awards are part of a second set of funds intended to "jump-start" human embryonic stem cell research in California, which state voters approved in 2004 as part of Proposition 71, the Stem Cell Research and Cures Act. In February, the ICOC approved grants totaling nearly $45 million to researchers new to the field of stem cell research. UC Davis scientists Ebenezer Yamoah and Harri Redi were among those selected for funding in that initial round of grants.
In July, the ICOC is expected to consider another round of grant proposals, which is designed to provide laboratory space for the type of human embryonic stem cell research that is prohibited by current federal policy.
UC Davis has more than 20 researchers working on a variety of stem cell investigations in both Davis and Sacramento. It is currently constructing a 100,000 square-foot stem cell research facility on its campus in Sacramento, where scientists will have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and cell manufacturing and testing rooms. That facility will complement the university's new Clinical and Translational Science Center, which is designed to expedite the translation and integration of scientific research into discoveries and treatments that benefit society. In 2005, the National Institutes of Health also awarded $6 million to fund a Center of Excellence in Translational Human Stem Cell Research on the Davis campus. One of only two such centers in the nation, it is focused on exploring stem and progenitor cell therapies for the treatment of childhood diseases, including those that affect the blood and kidneys.
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