Bioengineering Professor Receives Stem Cell Grant
February 16, 2007 -- More than two years after voters approved a $3 billion program to fund stem cell research in California, the state has approved the first grants focused solely on human embryonic stem cell research. Seven of those grants have been awarded to researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).
The 29-member Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC), governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), today approved 72 grants totaling approximately $45 million over two years, to researchers at 20 academic and non-profit research centers throughout the state. The Scientific Excellence through Exploration and Development (SEED) grants were selected from among 231 applications totaling more than $138.3 million from 36 California institutions.
The ICOC also voted to name these grants in honor of Leon J. Thal, M.D., professor and chair of UCSD’s Department of Neurosciences, who died last month in a plane crash. Thal, who was also director of UCSD’s Shiley Marcos Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, was one of the world’s leading experts on Alzheimer’s disease and a Governor’s appointee to the ICOC.
“UCSD will apply these funds to advance the promising research that we believe will lead to effective new therapies for some of today’s most vexing diseases,” said Marye Anne Fox, Chancellor, UC San Diego. “We also appreciate the ICOC’s recognition of our colleague Leon Thal. This is a fitting tribute to an individual whose dedication to improving the care of patients through research was an inspiration.”
“I am delighted to see that CIRM recognizes the promise of the work proposed by my excellent colleagues,” said Larry Goldstein, Ph.D., director of UCSD’s Stem Cell Program. “This is a wonderful endorsement of the outstanding quality of the stem cell research at UCSD, and the future prospects for our work to benefit the people of California.”
The ICOC approved Leon J. Thal SEED grants to the following UCSD researchers:
Sylvia Evans, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at UCSD’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, will receive $609,999 for her research with human embryonic stem cells aimed at developing therapies for heart failure and cardiac pacemaker dysfunction. To repair of human heart, it is important to study human cardiac progenitors and to define pathways required to grow and differentiate them utilizing human cells as a model experimental system. Evans’ lab will create special lines of human embryonic stem cells that become fluorescent when they adopt the cardiac progenitor, heart muscle, or pacemaker state, with the aim of obtaining sufficient numbers of specific cell types for cardiac therapy.
The Leon J. Thal Scientific Excellence through Exploration and Development Grants are intended to bring new ideas and new investigators into the field of human embryonic stem cell research, and offer an opportunity for investigators to carry out studies that may yield preliminary data or proof-of-principle results that can then be extended to full-scale investigations.
In March 2006, UCSD joined with The Burnham Institute for Medical Research, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and The Scripps Research Institute to establish the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. The alliance is designed to marshal the intellectual resources of four world-leaders in life sciences research, bringing scientists from each institution together to develop and conduct joint research and training programs in stem cell research.