California’s stem cell research funding agency today awarded a UC Irvine neuroscientist $3 million to study and generate a cell type that keeps the brain and spinal cord healthy.
Dr. Edwin Monuki, assistant professor of pathology & laboratory medicine and developmental & cell biology, was one of 23 scientists from 12 institutions to receive a New Faculty Award from the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, the governing body of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. In all, the ICOC approved grants totaling $59 million. The awards support promising young scientists embarking on stem cell research.
Total CIRM funding to UCI reached $51.2 million with this award, ranking it fourth for total CIRM funding among 27 institutions statewide.
“This award is a godsend for my research program, given the historically tough funding climate we are currently in,” Monuki said. “As a neuropathologist and physician-scientist, my work has involved diagnosing and understanding disease, but not intervening. Being given the opportunity to potentially intervene is particularly gratifying and motivating.”
Monuki plans to study the formation of choroid plexus epithelial cells. Located in the brain, these cells produce the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord with nourishing chemicals to promote normal nervous system health and function, learning and memory, and neural repair following injury. The cells also protect the brain and spinal cord from toxins, including those associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Choroid plexus function diminishes with normal aging and more rapidly in diseases such as Alzheimer’s. As the choroid plexus diminishes, neurologic and neuropsychiatric disorders can occur or become worse.
With the CIRM funding, Monuki will study how these cells develop normally in mice, then use both mouse and human stem cells to generate choroid plexus epithelial cells in laboratory culture dishes. Success in producing these cells could lead to clinical therapies and screens for new drugs for neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.
“This gives my research program a very tangible goal and opportunity to directly impact human health,” Monuki said.
In May, the state awarded UCI $27.2 million to build a dedicated stem cell research facility. It will be modeled after the existing Hewitt Hall and located within the heart of UCI’s Biomedical Research Center in the Health Sciences complex.
When completed, the new building will house the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, as many as 26 laboratory-based and clinical researchers, a stem cell techniques course for young scientists, a master’s program in biotechnology with an emphasis on stem cell research, and an array of programs and activities that involve and educate patients and the general public. UCI is raising money to support the new building.
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. UCI’s stem cell scientists are pioneers in regeneration, in large-scale production of specialized cells with very high purity, and in methods for using such cells to treat damaged tissues.
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