October 4, 2005

(DAVIS, Calif.) — With a $6 million grant from the National Institutes of HealthUC Davis establishes a new Center for Pediatric Stem/Progenitor Cell Translational Research that will bring together investigators from institutions throughout the United States and Canada. UC Davis is one of two new stem cell "Centers of Excellence" named by the National Institutes of Health.

The new center is a multidisciplinary partnership that unifies investigators and research programs across basic science, translational and medical disciplines for a common goal — the advancement of cellular therapies for the treatment of childhood diseases.

"The pediatric center provides a tremendous opportunity for scientists to address some of the major questions about stem cells and to focus on the development of new cell-based therapies for the treatment of childhood illnesses," said Alice F. Tarantal, a professor of pediatrics at UC Davis School of Medicine and at the California National Primate Research Center who is director of the new center and principal investigator of the grant. "These questions range from how can we grow the cells in sufficient quantities to make their clinical use more feasible, what are the best methods to assess the safety of potential treatments, and how can we best monitor and track cells in the body."

While stem cells hold great potential for treating a variety of health problems, researchers need to learn more about them, Tarantal says. To improve understanding of stem cell biology, the center will focus on three major research projects that will develop new methods to:

  • co-culture stem and progenitor cells to increase the number of umbilical cord blood stem cells available for cell transplants
  • isolate and expand progenitor cells in the kidney as a potential cell therapy for urinary tract obstruction in children with kidney disease
  • improve cell imaging that could be used for tracking transplanted stem cells in clinical studies

These research projects are supported by four core services for administrative, cell and vector, non-human primate, and bioinformatics/biostatistics support. Another important feature of the center is the pilot and feasibility program, which will provide opportunities for investigators nationwide to conduct research projects within the center and to form new collaborations. The center will also develop a mechanism for shared resources and databases, and expand educational programs with scientific seminars, workshops and an annual retreat.

"Our goal is to create an environment where cross- and multidisciplinary collaborations can flourish and lead to new cutting-edge technologies and therapies for diseases that affect children, from blood cell disorders to kidney disease," said Tarantal. "We are focused on discovery and bringing new findings from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside."

"Stem cells have the unique potential to revolutionize basic and clinical research that will result in entirely new medical treatments for a variety of diseases from cancer and Parkinson's disease to heart failure and spinal cord injuries," said Ann C. Bonham, executive associate dean for research and education at UC Davis School of Medicine. "Because stem cells can differentiate into cell types that perform highly specialized body functions —from white blood cells that fight infection to kidney cells that maintain the acid-base balance — they hold great promise for replacing diseased cells, tissues, and organs and can broaden our understanding of disease processes."

Other center partners include The Herman B. Wells Center for Pediatric Research at Indiana University School of Medicine, the University of British Columbia BC Children’s Hospital, the University of Minnesota, and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.