UCSF human embryonic stem cell research receives infusion of funds

By Jennifer O'Brien

Su Guo, PhD

Eleven UCSF faculty members, representing medical disciplines as far ranging as breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease and heart development research, were among scientists awarded funding today by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) for human embryonic stem cell research.

Eight of the UCSF grants were awarded to scientists based at UCSF and three to researchers at the UCSF-affiliated J. David Gladstone Institutes.

The awards are the first grants to have been issued by the California agency for laboratory research. In April 2006, CIRM awarded its first round of competitive funds, for stem cell training programs at UCSF and other California universities. CIRM was established by voters in November 2004 to administer $3 billion for stem cell research over 10 years.

“These grants are an important step forward for the stem cell field,” says Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, director of the UCSF Institute for Regeneration Medicine. “They will support a broad range of research into the nature of human embryonic stem cells that simply hasn’t been able to be carried out on a wide scale due to federal funding restrictions.”

An exciting aspect of the funding mechanism, he says, is that it has drawn into the field a broad spectrum of top medical scientists who traditionally have not conducted research with human embryonic stem cells, in part due to the federal funding restrictions.

“These are leading neuroscientists and cell and developmental biologists who bring fresh perspectives and backgrounds to the field and will help determine the potential of embryonic stem cells both for understanding and treating cancers and many other diseases and for developing cell-based therapies.”

Notably, the funding awards, known as Scientific Excellence through Exploration and Development (SEED) grants, were designed to spark novel ideas and lead to investigations that could yield preliminary data or proof-of-principle results. They provide funding for
two years. Preliminary findings could then be extended to full-scale investigations.

“CIRM has been very smart in its grant-making strategy,” says Kriegstein. “The training grants issued last year have allowed universities to lay the groundwork for preparing a generation of stem cell scientists, not only in research but in the ethics of the science. The SEED grants have produced clever ideas. In the spring, CIRM will issue more substantial and comprehensive research grants, and next fall they are scheduled to issue funds for facilities needed for carrying out human embryonic stem cell research in nonfederally funded lab space. This is a wise course of action.”

## The UCSF SEED grant recipients are:

• Robert Blelloch, MD, PhD, UCSF assistant clinical professor of urology, MicroRNA Regulation of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Self-Renewal and Differentiation $631,831

• Linda Giudice, MD, UCSF professor and chair of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, Human Embryonic Stem Cell Differentiation to Trophoblast:
Basic Biology and Clinical Translation to Improve Human Fertility, $640,399

• Su Guo, PhD, UCSF assistant professor of biopharmaceutical sciences, Identifying small molecules that stimulate the differentiation of hESCs into dopamine-producing neurons, $564,309

• Heike Daldrup-Link, MD, PhD, UCSF associate professor of radiology, Labeling of human embryonic stem cells with iron oxide nanoparticles and fluorescent dyes for a non-invasive cell depiction with MR imaging and optical imaging, $251,088

• Miguel Ramalho-Santos, PhD, UCSF scholar, Transcriptional Regulation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells, $618,901

• Thea Tlsty, PhD, UCSF professor of pathology, Role of the tumor suppressor gene, p16INK4a, in regulating stem cell phenotypes in embryonic stem cells and human epithelial cells, $639,150

• Valerie Weaver, PhD, UCSF associate professor of surgery, Force, Dimensionality and Stem Cell Fate, $561,082

• Holger Willenbring, MD, UCSF assistant professor of surgery, Induction of pluripotency in fibroblasts by fusion with enucleated human embryonic stem cell syncytia, $342,962

## The UCSF faculty at the UCSF-affiliated J. David Gladstone Institutes:

• Warner Green, MD, PhD, UCSF professor of medicine, director of the Gladstone Institute for Virology and Immunology, The APOBEC3 Gene Family as Guardians of Genome Stability in Human Embryonic Stem Cells, $777,467

• Eric Verdin, MD, UCSF professor of medicine, senior investigator, Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology, Role of HDAC in human stem cells pluripotentiality and differentiation, $790,999

• Fen-Biao Gao, PhD, UCSF associate professor of neurology, associate investigator, Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease, MicroRNAs in Human Stem Cell Differentiation and Mental Disorders, $791,000

## For a description of each SEED grant research award: http://www.cirm.ca.gov/press/pdf/2007/02-16-07.pdf

UCSF is a leading university that advances health worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences and health professions, and providing complex patient care.

The UCSF-affiliated J. David Gladstone Institutes is dedicated to the health and welfare of humankind through research into the causes and prevention of some of the world’s most devastating diseases.

## Related links:

UCSF Receives Funding for Training Grant from Stem Cell Institute

UCSF Institute for Regeneration Medicine

California Institute for Regenerative Medicine

J. David Gladstone Institutes