UC Davis launches new stem cell research institute
Posted Oct. 1, 2008
Upwards of 200 people are now indelibly linked to stem cell research at UC Davis. Each of them got to sign their names on the wall of a building now being converted into a $62 million hub for stem cell research at the university. The event was part of the groundbreaking ceremony that officially launched the new UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures, a facility supported by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).
UC Davis is the second of 12 institutions funded by CIRM to formally begin work on a facility dedicated to regenerative medicine. Held on September 26 at the Sacramento campus of UC Davis, the event featured a number of top local and state officials, along with a number of researchers, physicians, donors and other invited guests.
Larry Vanderhoef, UC Davis chancellor, noted that the creation of the institute was an appropriate way to mark the university’s many achievements during this, its centennial year.
“UC Davis’ Institute for Regenerative Cures is well-positioned for success,” said Vanderhoef, “because it arises from a tradition dedicated to improving life and advancing health.”
UC Davis’ vice chancellor for Human Health Sciences and the dean of its school of medicine, Claire Pomeroy, added that “within these walls [of the new facility], we’ll be bringing together dedicated researchers, from a variety of disciplines, to focus their skills and expertise on one specific objective: turning stem cells into cures.”
The new institute will be housed in a 92,000 square-foot area adjacent to the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center. It is being designed to encourage collaborative, team-oriented science and it will include a state-of-the-art Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) facility, which is a highly specialized laboratory that enables researchers to safely move cellular therapies into clinical trials for human patients.
Also on hand for the groundbreaking was Robert Klein, chair of CIRM’s governing board and the person who spearheaded Proposition 71, the successful 2004 state initiative that is now providing $3 billion over the next 10 years to support stem cell research. Klein pointed out that UC Davis successfully competed with a number of institutions around the state to secure funding for its new facility.
“When the scientific palette of this great institution and the stem cell center was put before an international panel of scientists and clinicians,” said Klein, “…the UC Davis stem cell institute was selected for a $20 million award completely on merit, completely on the basis of what it could contribute to the future of medicine in this dynamic new field.”
To date, UC Davis has received $34 million in stem cell grants from CIRM, ranking it among the top institutions in the state for the research funds. Approximately 125 scientists, based in labs on its Davis and Sacramento campuses, working on various aspects of regenerative medicine research. The institute will help centralize much of the research by offering laboratory space and areas where equipment and ideas can be shared among hundreds of scientists.
Certainly the event’s most poignant moments came when a trio of patient advocates provided the audience a very real sense of why stem cell research is so important and why the public has such high hopes for breakthrough cures. Judy Roberson, whose family has been devastated by Huntington’s disease, underscored the importance of research funding by handing over a check to UC Davis on the spot when she finished her remarks.
She was followed by the Kevin and Teresa Partington, who brought to the stage their three-year-old twins Jenna and Patrick. The youngsters suffer from a rare hereditary disease called cystinosis. Their parents are hopeful that the research taking place in California will find new approaches for overcoming the disease, which today has few treatment options.
“Kevin and I feel so privileged to be a part of this exciting time for the medical and science communities,” said Teresa Partington. “We have felt blessed to have the UC Davis Health System in our ‘own back yard’ since the day our children began seeing their nephrologist, Dr. Lavjay Butani, and his team three years ago. To witness this [groundbreaking event] first hand gives our family such hope, it almost seems too good to be true.”
Following completion and certification of the laboratory facilities in late 2009, institute researchers plan to launch a series of four clinical trials using adult stem cells to explore new treatments for Huntington’s disease, retinal occlusion (vision impairment), tissue damage from heart attacks and peripheral vascular disease.
“In addition to these initial clinical trials,” said Jan Nolta, professor of hematology and oncology and director of the new institute, “UC Davis has established 14 disease-specific teams, which also will bring together the clinical knowledge and laboratory experience needed to advance stem cell science.”
For more information about the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures and all of the stem cell research at UC Davis, visit http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/stemcellresearch/.