Two new stem cell centers set to open

September 3, 2010 7:57:03 PM PDT
Despite last month's federal court ruling that bars federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, California is on the forefront of a promising scientific frontier. It all started with Proposition 71, which voters approved in 2004 and became a milestone that marked the coming explosion in stem cell technology. Now, two major research facilities are set to open this year in the Bay Area.

Stanford University neurosurgeon Dr. Gary Steinberg, M.D., says he sees a day when stroke victims, with debilitating side effects, will be healed.

"Our lab is investigating novel strategies to recover function after a stroke, by basically regenerating the brain tissue," says Steinberg.

He found that mice who had suffered strokesregenerated brain tissue after being injected with stem cells.

"If you put in the stem cells a week after inducing a stroke in a rodent model, that the rodent recovers behavior," says Steinberg.

His research shows incredible promise for human patients. Steinberg's findings were made possible by a grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM. That is the agency created by voters in 2004 to supply $3 billion for stem cell research over 10 years.

"We received a very large grant for $20 million and that kind of funding is not available from the traditional sources," says Steinberg.

"The basic science work is progressing really well," says CIRM president Alan Trounson.

Funding for stem cell research was held up in courts for about three years while religious groups and others fought to keep it from being implemented. Since then, CIRM has doled out more than a billion dollars to universities and researchers all over the state, making the golden state the leader in stem cell studies.

"Here now in California, it's just a massive amount of energy which is in total, as large as the rest of the world," says Trounson.

Of the nine California research centers scheduled to open this year, two of the largest are here in the Bay Area -- Stanford and UC San Francisco.

They are attracting leading stem cell researchers from around the globe to work side by side in labs. The emphasis is on sharing research betweens labs and between institutions.

"The blending of the teams together, even across institutions is necessary, and we've reached out internationally also to pull the best scientists together. So, if you don't do that, you will just be delayed," says Trounson.

Stanford University's Lorry I. Lokey stem cell research building will open in October. It received more than $43 million from the state; an additional $75 million was chipped in by a private donor. The resulting building will be the largest facility in the nation dedicated to stem cell research.

UCSF was granted nearly $35 million from the center for its lab perched on a hillside behind the campus hospital. Private donors chipped in another $41 million to get it finished. It will open in November.

Dr. Arnold Kriegstein, M.D., heads up the stem cell program at UCSF.

"This space will actually house laboratories that will be working all the way from very basic biology of stem cells to cutting edge clinical work and translation, the actual movement of ideas and concepts from the bench to the bedside," says Kriegstein.

The UCSF building will be home to 25 leading scientists working with teams of 12 researchers. Each lab is connected to the next to encourage scientists to share ideas.

Kriegstein says he never would have imagined stem cell research would have moved forward so quickly, but now he's more optimistic than ever that cures will be found thanks to the funding from the state.

"It really in a sense mirrors the pace of activity in the science. Things have been moving extremely fast, just a year or two ago it was inconceivable that that we could make stem cell lines that were patient specific or that came from patients with specific diseases and now that's become routine," says Kriegstein.

UC Berkeley and the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato have also been recipients of significant CIRM grants.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel


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