The Burnham Institute is the only NIH exploratory stem cell center in California and the southwestern United States. The Institute was one of three exploratory center sites selected by NIH: Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, also in New York, received the other two grants. NIH has funded a total of six exploratory stem cell centers to date, including three centers named in 2003 when the program was initiated: University of Washington, University of Wisconsin, and University of Michigan.
The field of hESC biology is in its infancy and is part of the burgeoning broader field of human stem cell biology. "If we are to realize the tremendous potential of stem cells, we urgently need more fundamental knowledge about their basic biology and more scientists trained to work with them," said Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences ("NIGMS") at the NIH.
NIGMS is addressing these critical needs by providing a total of $9M to the three new Exploratory Centers for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research over the next three years. The centers will use this funding for research on stem cell lines that are listed on the NIH's Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry, so-called "NIH approved" stem cell lines.
"These centers are a crucial step in establishing the infrastructure for scientists to address essential questions about human development and cell differentiation," said Marion M. Zatz, Ph.D., program director for the center grants.
During its first year, the Burnham's exploratory stem cell center will fund pilot studies to develop imaging technology that will allow "real time" observation of stem cells, studies on the molecular signals that enable self-renewal and specialization of stem cells, and ongoing studies to improve on methods for growing and maintaining cells.
"Our primary goal in establishing a stem cell center at The Burnham is to facilitate collaborative research on the basic biology of hESC and encourage new researchers to enter the field. This NIH funding will enable new and established investigators to develop the utility of hESC as a model system for a diverse range of biological and medical problems," said Evan Snyder, M.D., Ph.D., Principal Investigator and Co-director of the Stem Cell Center.
"Training new investigators and sharing information are principal goals of the Stem Cell Center", added Jeanne Loring, Ph.D., co-Principal Investigator and co-director of the Stem Cell Center. The grant will support short workshop courses in hESC technology for visiting scientists and provide infrastructure for an intensive NIH-supported training course initiated in 2004 as a joint effort between Dr. Philip Schwartz of the Children's Hospital of Orange County ("CHOC") and Drs. Loring and Snyder of the Burnham Institute.
The Burnham Institute already serves the worldwide stem cell research community through several other programs. The Southern California Stem Cell Consortium is a group of about 100 scientists from academic and industry organizations who meet monthly at the Burnham to discuss issues in human ES cell biology. The Burnham also sponsors a series of symposia exploring the ethical issues surrounding stem cell biology, and hosts an informational website, called The Stem Cell Community (http://www.stemcellcommunity.org). Burnham Institute scientists are producing a definitive human ES cell laboratory manual that will be published in 2006 by Elsevier, a leading publisher of scientific literature.
The Burnham Institute, founded in 1976, is an independent not-for-profit biomedical research institution dedicated to advancing the frontiers of scientific knowledge and providing the foundation for tomorrow's medical therapies. The Institute is home to three major centers: the Cancer Center, the Del E. Webb Neuroscience and Aging Center, and the Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Center. Since 1981, the Institute's Cancer Center has been a member of the National Cancer Institute's prestigious Cancer Centers program. Discoveries by Burnham scientists have contributed to the development of new drugs for Alzheimer's disease, heart disease and several forms of cancer. Today the Burnham Institute employs over 700 people, including more than 550 scientists. The majority of the Institute's funding derives from federal sources, but private philanthropic support is essential to continuing bold and innovative research. For additional information about the Institute and ways to support the research efforts of the Institute, visit www.burnham.org.