$3.5 Million Awarded for Stem-Cell

On Feb. 16, UC Irvine received $3.5 million in the first of two waves of stem cell research funding from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
The six UCI projects, ranging from muscular dystrophy to mitochondria were chosen by the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee for the two-year Scientific Excellence through Exploration and Development grants.
The ICOC endorsed $45 million for 72 projects dedicated to the study of human embryonic stem cell research. The grants were chosen from 231 applications from 36 California institutions, totaling approximately $138.3 million.
The six scientists at UCI who will receive the funds are: Charles Limoli, Grant MacGregor, Kyoko Yokomori, Vincent Procaccio, Brian Cummings and Thomas Lane.
Charles Limoli, associate professor of radiation oncology, was awarded $625,617 to replace somatic stem cells exhausted during cancer radiotherapy with human embryonic stem cells. Limoli’s research on the risk of tumor growth when human embryonic stem cells are inserted into healthy tissue will shed light onto the risks of cancer associated with the therapeutic use of stem cells.
Grant MacGregor, associate professor of developmental and cell biology, was awarded $623,781 for further research on ways that female reproductive cells could be grown from human embryonic cells.
Kyoko Yokomori, associate professor of biological chemistry, was awarded $623,500 to study the chromatin structure developed at DNA sequences that are connected to a form of muscular dystrophy. The purpose of this research is to further understand the origin and physical progression of this condition and to hopefully find a treatment for the patients suffering from the disorder.
Vincent Procaccio, assistant professor of pediatrics, was awarded $623,500 to study mitochrondria and its role in allowing human embryonic stem cells to develop into the desired cell types.
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.
Thomas Lane, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, was awarded $425,594 to examine stem cells in initiating and maintaining repair to the damaged nervous system caused by diseases such as multiple sclerosis with the goal of finding a treatment for it.
Within the next four years, CIRM will give additional funding up to $80 million to 25 accomplished scientists with ongoing stem cell research projects. In an effort to discuss conditions and possible treatments involving stem cells with the public, UCI’s Sue and Bill Gross Stem cell Research Center organized a panel discussion called ‘Stem Cells: Patient, Physician, Scientist’ on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. at the University Club on campus.
Rep. James Langevin, co-sponsor of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 and only quadriplegic in Congress, gave the opening talk to the forum. Langevin, who, at age 16 while working with the police department in the Boy Scout Explorer program, was accidentally struck by a bullet, leaving him paralyzed and now a strong advocate of stem cell research.
After Langevin’s talk, patient Beth Koenig, Dr. Leonid Lerner, and scientist Henry Klassen discussed retinal degeneration, or vision loss caused by deterioration of the eye, and the treatments that might result due to stem cell research. In addition, patient Frances Saldana, Dr. Neal Hermanowicz and scientist Leslie Thompson discussed Huntington’s Disease, a genetic disorder of the nervous system characterized by progressive mental deterioration and involuntary movements.
Currently, UCI is one of the leading institutions in stem cell research with 60 UCI scientists using them in their current or planned studies. The Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, named after Sue and Bill Gross who donated $10 million in July 2006 to support stem cell research at UCI, is a discovery unit dedicated to basic and clinical research and training in the field of stem cell biology.