Stem cells show particular promise in treating diseases for which few other effective treatments exist. In these therapies, stem cells are introduced into the body where they develop into specialized cells that repair, restore, replace or regenerate cells that have been damaged by the disease.
As part of a state-wide effort to advance stem cell therapies, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has awarded $8 million to the UC San Diego Alpha Stem Cell Clinic. The funding will support the clinic’s mission of bringing new stem cell-based therapies to patients with difficult-to-treat diseases.
The Alpha Clinics — named for being the first of their kind — are a network of clinics spanning the state of California, designed to bridge the gap between stem cell research and clinical application. The system brings together clinical, research, regulatory and administrative teams in order to expedite clinical trials and streamline the patient experience.
“We’re trying to change the way we do medicine,” said Catriona Jamieson, MD, PhD, director of the UC San Diego Alpha Stem Cell Clinic and chief of the Division of Regenerative Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “The Alpha Clinic helps academic and industry experts join forces to bring world-class technologies directly to the patients.”
The grant is part of a series of recent CIRM awards totaling $72 million to expand the Alpha Clinics network. UC San Diego was one of three founding institutions when the project launched in 2015. The new funding will expand the program to nine sites across the state.
In the seven years since its inception, the UC San Diego Alpha Stem Cell Clinic has launched 59 clinical trials and treated 277 patients with new therapies for neurodegeneration, diabetes and various forms of cancer. The trials largely test cell, gene and immunotherapies developed through growing partnerships between UC San Diego and local biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.
Recent milestones include the completion of a Phase I trial using neural stem cells to treat spinal cord injury, in which patients showed improved motor function after the treatment, as well as approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a Phase III registration trial of a blood cancer stem cell-targeting monoclonal antibody.
The latest funding will help expand clinical trials at both La Jolla and Hillcrest Medical Centers and create a Clinical Fellowship Program to educate additional physicians in advanced regenerative medicine therapies.
Another major goal of the clinic is to improve accessibility and awareness of stem cell science. A portion of the funding will go towards new patient education programs and efforts to make treatments more accessible to historically underserved communities in San Diego and Imperial Counties.
“Patients come to us when nothing else has worked, so we are thrilled to be able to provide new treatments to our community that are not available in other parts of the country,” said Jamieson. “The Alpha Clinics’ highly collaborative infrastructure will help us develop and validate high-quality stem cell therapies at an unprecedented speed, and the effects will be seen across California and beyond.”
Funding for the UC San Diego Alpha Stem Cell Clinic comes from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (grant INFR4-13597).
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