News in Brief

UCI Researchers Find Good Use for Fat

Fat has long been stigmatized and associated with obesity, but although too much fat is not good for one’s health, neither is too little fat. In fact, researchers at UC Irvine discovered that fat plays a significant role in storing proteins in cells that bind DNA and organize in the nucleus.

Associate professor of Developmental and Cell Biology Steven Gross and other colleagues discovered that fat protects the cell by storing excess proteins that are harmful for the cell if not isolated.

Their experiment involved purifying the droplets of fat in fruit flies, which were used because of the strong similarities between their fat droplets and those of mammals.

Researchers isolated the fat droplets and also found that 50 percent of histones, a protein that folds DNA, was not only present in the fat but also traveled out of the fat and into the cell from early to late development of an embryo. This proves that fat could be extremely important in protecting the cell from harmful excess proteins.

Gross explained that ‘misshapen’ proteins in the brain are traits of ‘prion diseases, such as Mad Cow Disease.’ He hopes that the fat droplets could help ‘keep excess bothersome proteins out of the way,’ which would aid in finding a cure for prion diseases.

Stem Cell Researchers Hope to Get Millions in Funding

UC Irvine hopes to become the primary site on the West Coast for stem-cell research and obtain $26 million, one quarter of the $104 million that will be distributed by the state over the next four years, UCI will also request $2.5 million to operate the new Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center.

The state board institution that reviews the proposals for research funding, the California Institute for Regeneration Medicine, plans to distribute up to $24 million over the next two years to scientists who are advancing in their stem-cell research, such as UCI researcher and co-director of the stem-cell center Hans Keirstead.

The board has received approximately 350 letters of intent from 15 institutions in California, 43 of which were from UCI departments including bioengineering, cardiology and developmental biology. UCI competes with UC San Diego and Stanford researchers for the money.

The authorization to distribute $3 million for stem-cell research comes from California voters’ approval of Proposition 71 Nov 2004. Governor Schwarzenegger loaned the California Institute for Regeneration Medicine $150 million, in addition to the private donations that were collected, for further and more advanced research.

UCI works with West Coast Fertility Centers of Fountain Valley to obtain days-old embryos from patients who wish to specifically donate them for stem-cell research purposes.