UC Irvine today was awarded $3.9 million to upgrade its core embryonic stem cell research laboratory and expand a program to train young scientists on research techniques involving human embryonic stem cells.

This grant is part of more than $50 million in Shared Research Laboratory funding awarded to 17 institutions by the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. CIRM awards are intended to fund laboratories and equipment for the growth of human embryonic stem cells and training for scientists and technical staff who grow and maintain these cells. All grants are subject to review and revision by CIRM.

“We are honored to be chosen for this funding, which will allow us to enhance our already top-notch facility and popular training course,” said Peter Donovan, co-director of the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at UCI. “Modern facilities and trained scientists are key to developing future stem cell therapies.”

UCI’s core laboratory is located within the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center and is equipped with instruments critical to human embryonic stem cell research. Scientists use the laboratory to explore the biology of human embryonic stem cells and their use in therapies for spinal cord injuries, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, heart disease, retinal disease, and Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases.

With CIRM funding, UCI plans to create more laboratory research space and purchase new equipment designed to genetically modify and analyze stem cells, as well as equipment to isolate specialized cells for disease treatment. It also plans to renovate space where potential stem cell-based treatments are tested prior to moving them to the clinic.

Notably, UCI was one of only six institutions in the state chosen by CIRM to train new researchers in the use of human embryonic stem cells. In 2006, UCI created a five-day Human Embryonic Stem Cell Techniques Course that teaches methods for cultivating, handling and differentiating human embryonic stem cells. The course is well-attended, drawing students from UCI and UC Riverside.

“We are delighted that CIRM recognized the strength of our training program and the efforts of all at UCI who contributed to the quality of the course,” said Leslie Lock, director of the training course.

UCI will use CIRM funds to lengthen the course to two weeks to include instruction on methods for cell transplantation and for testing potential therapies prior to clinical research. Currently, few opportunities exist for researchers to learn both how to develop potential human embryonic stem cell therapies and to carry out pre-clinical testing. CIRM funding also will support UCI’s master’s program in stem cell biology, which trains the next generation of scientists in this burgeoning field.

In all, UCI and its stem cell research scientists have been awarded $17.5 million in CIRM funding. Earlier this year, seven UCI scientists new to human embryonic stem cells were awarded research grants totaling $4 million, and three scientists with experience in the field were awarded grants totaling $7.4 million. In April 2006, UCI was awarded about $2 million to educate new stem cell researchers. UCI ranks fourth among 23 institutions for total CIRM funding.

UCI began its stem cell research program in the 1970s and moved into human stem cell research in 2000. Today, more than 60 UCI scientists use stem cells in current or planned studies. Now a hub for stem cell research in Southern California, UCI is raising money for a new building that would house its stem cell researchers, the core laboratory, training facilities and research space. UCI plans to apply for a CIRM facilities grant to build the structure.
About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,800 faculty members. The second-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.7 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

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