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CIRM Grants Awarded to UC San Diego Researchers


June 27, 2008  |   

Adding to the more than $19.8 million in funding that researchers at the University of California, San Diego have received to date from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), three grants were awarded today to UCSD School of Medicine researchers to fund new approaches to generating stem cell lines from human skin, and to fighting leukemia and Alzheimer’s disease.

CIRM’s governing board, the 29-member Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC), this morning announced that Steven Dowdy, Ph.D., professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Center Investigator will receive a three-year New Cell Lines grant for $1,387, 800. 

The CIRM New Cell Lines Awards support the derivation and propagation of new lines of pluripotent human stem cells with important research and clinical application for understanding, diagnosing and treating serious injury and disease.  A total of $23 million in funding for 16 grants at nine California institutions was approved at today’s meeting.

Dowdy will study the generation of human-induced pluripotent stem cells – meaning cells that have the ability to develop into many different kinds of cells – using cells from human skin as a model.  He has developed a technique that avoids using viral vectors, which have the potential to integrate into DNA and pose a risk of cancer formation.   

The second CIRM grant program will fund the planning stages of an innovative model of research, using multi-disciplinary teams to collaborate on therapies for a specific disease or injury.  The goal is to fund an approach with potential to rapidly advance new therapies into use by patients.

UCSD researchers led by Dennis A. Carson, M.D., professor of medicine at UCSD School of Medicine and director of the Moores UCSD Cancer Center, have been awarded a $55,000 planning grant for a disease team that will study leukemia stem cells.  More than most other forms of cancer, scientists understand the molecular changes that take place in the blood-forming cells that cause leukemia.  Experimental results from various research institutions strongly suggest that it will be possible to destroy leukemia stem cells using drugs or drug combinations, without harming most normal cells. The next step is to develop models for use in drug development that can identify agents that are capable of eliminating the leukemia stem cells that persist in some patients even after treatment, and that continue to grown, spread, invade and kill normal cells.

The second disease team, led by Larry Goldstein, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Cellular & Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program, will look at using human stem cells to accelerate the development of therapies to treat Alzheimer's disease.  This team will study the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease in neurons, as well as those caused or accelerated by defects in vascular, glial or inflammatory cells.  The scientists plan to develop systems for generating and studying human neurons and glia (cells in the nervous system that support, nourish, and protect neurons) in the lab, as well as to introduce different types of human cells into animal models.  This will enable them to test responses to Alzheimer’s disease-like environments and assess the possible impact that normal human neurons may have on the development of the disease. 

“These investigations will require significant interdisciplinary activity as they will need technologies, informatics, and computing beyond those typical of most stem cell biology laboratories,” said Goldstein, who also received a $55,000 planning grant.

In addition, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR) received a $55,000 disease planning grant to study the use of stem cells to treat primary and metastatic brain tumors.   The project – led by Webster Cavenee, Ph.D., director of the San Diego branch of LICR and professor of medicine at Moores UCSD Cancer Center – will compare five distinct sources of human neural stem cells believed to have therapeutic properties.  His proposed disease team first revealed that neural stem cells – armed with the proper tumor-killing gene and administered into the brain or bloodstream – have the ability to dramatically reduce brain tumors.

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Media Contact: Debra Kain, 619-543-6163,

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