Public Release:  UC Irvine stem cell researchers awarded $1.54 million in state funding

University of California - Irvine

Irvine, Calif., Jan. 30, 2014 -- Two UC Irvine research teams will receive $1.54 million to further studies on the fundamental structure and function of stem cells. Their work will aid efforts to treat and cure a range of ailments, from cancer to neurological diseases and injuries.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine awarded the two grants today to Lisa Flanagan and Peter Donovan of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center as part of its basic biology awards program.

CIRM's governing board gave 27 such grants worth $27 million to 11 institutions statewide. The funded projects are considered critical to the institute's mission of investigating the underlying mechanisms of stem cell biology, cellular plasticity and cellular differentiation in order to create a foundation for future translational and clinical advances.

Today's grants bring total CIRM funding at UC Irvine to $98.8 million.

"Innovative basic research like this paves the way to better designs for the use of stem cells," said Sidney Golub, director of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center. "Even more importantly, it can open up entirely new approaches based on a better understanding of how stem cells function."

In one project, Flanagan and her UC Irvine colleagues will utilize a $1 million grant to study what happens on the surface of early-stage neural stem cells that causes them to develop into either neurons or astrocytes - different kinds of brain and spinal cord cells. In the course of this work, the team aims to uncover specific properties of human stem cells used to treat neurological diseases and injuries.

"We expect this knowledge will enhance the benefit of these cells in transplants by enabling more control over what sort of mature cells will be formed from transplanted cells," said Flanagan, an assistant professor of neurology, biomedical engineering and anatomy & neurobiology. "We hope our research will greatly improve the identification, isolation and utility of certain types of human neural stem cells."

In the other project, Donovan and fellow UC Irvine researchers Marian Waterman, Robert Edwards and Michelle Digman will use a $540,000 grant for a new kind of microscopy to capture images of the metabolic states of cells in living tissue in order to identify stem cell populations. Because stem cells can give rise to tumors that are metabolically very different from normal tissue, being able to identify cells that are about to create tumors could be immensely helpful in early cancer diagnosis.

"If these studies are successful, our findings can be employed in clinical settings for better diagnosis of human disease," said Donovan, a professor of biological chemistry and developmental & cell biology.

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About the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center: The Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at UC Irvine is one of the largest, most technologically advanced stem cell research facilities in the world. It was established in part through a $10 million gift from Bill Gross, founder and co-chief investment officer of international investment firm PIMCO, and his wife, Sue. The center's team of scientists and multiple research and graduate assistants have worked to unlock the potential of stem cells for treating and curing an estimated 70 major diseases and disorders. For more information, visit stemcell.uci.edu.

About CIRM: Established in November 2004 with the passage of Proposition 71, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is authorized to provide $3 billion in funding over 10 years for stem cell research and facilities throughout California.

About the University of California, Irvine: Located in coastal Orange County, near a thriving employment hub in one of the nation's safest cities, UC Irvine was founded in 1965. One of only 62 members of the Association of American Universities, it's ranked first among U.S. universities under 50 years old by the London-based Times Higher Education. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UC Irvine has more than 28,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It's Orange County's second-largest employer, contributing $4.3 billion annually to the local economy.

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