CIRM awards new grant to UCSF human embryonic stem cell program

By Jennifer O'Brien

UCSF has received a $3,872,557 grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to expand its nonfederally funded human embryonic stem cell research laboratory and establish a stem cell techniques course for scientists throughout Northern California.

The expansion will nearly double the size of a recently remodeled, 1,147 square foot space designated for non-federally funded research that was constructed with UCSF funds. The new space, adjacent to this laboratory, will serve as a Shared Core Research Laboratory and Teaching Facility.

As a Shared Research Laboratory, the facility will be used for deriving, growing and characterizing non-federal human embryonic stem cell lines that will be provided to approximately 32 UCSF investigators, many of whom are carrying out human embryonic stem cell studies with CIRM grants. Their work is aimed at understanding the earliest stages of human development, and such conditions as neurological disorders, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. 

The laboratory will also provide technical assistance and access to non-federal equipment for analyzing human embryonic stem cells that are not on the National Institutes of Health Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry, and serve as a bank for nonfederal lines from experts around the world that will be distributed to the aforementioned investigators.

In their assessment of the grant proposal, the CIRM Grants Working Group wrote, the planned lab involves “a world class team of investigators and excellent collaborations.” The grant allocation for the lab is $2,619,667.

The laboratory is intended to function as a hub to support investigators as they establish their studies, says Linda C. Giudice, MD, PhD, the program director for the grant and chair and professor of the UCSF Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences. The spokes of this hub are the portions of individual investigators’ labs throughout the university that have been designated for nonfederally funded research.

The shared lab space will also serve as a teaching facility for a stem cell techniques course, for UCSF scientists and those from 10 other institutions - including San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco, University of California, Santa Cruz, University of California, Berkeley, Dominican College of Marin, Children’s Hospital of Oakland Research Institute, California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, The J. David Gladstone Institutes, the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research, and Blood Centers of the Pacific. The funding for this portion of the grant is $1,252,890.

The techniques course, wrote the CIRM group, is “one of the highest levels of teaching and course offerings, not only in California, but perhaps the entire country.”

The course will offer three modes of instruction: 1) a formal core course of one week duration offered quarterly that will include lectures, seminars, and hands-on laboratory experience and cover growth, propagation and analysis of nonfederal hESCs; 2) a course on hESC derivation; and 3) a less formal course of instruction for users.

The CIRM grant is designed to counter the impact of the federal government’s funding restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research. On August 9, 2001, President George W. Bush, announced that only those cell lines that had been established by that date could be studied with federal funds. At the time, UCSF and University of Wisconsin were the only U.S. universities to have developed cell lines. These and a handful of other lines worldwide are now on the NIH Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry and available for research.

The result has been a lack of funding to encourage investigators to enter the field, says Susan Fisher, PhD, associate program director of the grant and the acting director of the UCSF Human Embryonic Stem Cell Center. The CIRM research grants issued earlier this year and the current facilities grant will help nurture the field, she says.

In the face of federal funding restrictions, since 2001, UCSF scientists have gone on to derive 11 new lines of human embryonic stem cells, using nonfederal funds and working in nonfederal laboratory space carved out in small, modest laboratories by the University or provided by Geron Corp., a co-funder of some of the research. These lines have been grown without exposure to a “feeder” layer of mouse cells, traditionally used to nurture the cells, making them potentially eligible for future transplantation studies in humans.

In their assessment of the grant proposal, the CIRM group wrote, UCSF is “arguably one of the leading institutions in the world in the derivation and propagation of human embryonic stem cell lines.”

The Shared Research and Teaching Laboratory grant is the fourth round of funding issued by CIRM. In April 2006, the Institute issued a grant for training the next generation of scientists. In February and March 2007, it issued two rounds of research grants. UCSF received substantial funding in each round.

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.

Related links:
* UCSF receives CIRM SEED grants

* UCSF receives CIRM Comprehensive grants

* UCSF receives CIRM Training grant


* UCSF Institute for Regeneration Medicine