Stem cell researchers get millions
Posted August 28, 2009 at 3:06 pm in News
Two Keck School of Medicine professors have received separate million-dollar grants from a state research institution to fund stem cell research in USC labs.
Wange Lu, an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and Martin Pera, the director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, received two out of 12 ‚ÄúBasic Biology‚ÄĚ monetary awards given by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to research institutions throughout Southern California. Lu and Pera each received approximately $1.4 million to assist in their distinct topics of stem cell research.
Shelley Hough, a researcher working in Pera‚Äôs lab, said the two grants are crucial to Keck, as they continue their research.
‚Äú[The funding] came at a really important time,‚ÄĚ Hough said.
Lu, who has been at Keck for three and a half years, will use his grant to lead a laboratory group in researching the process of transforming a human embryonic cell into a pluripotent stem cell, which is capable of maturing into almost any type of body cells. Though Lu has successfully executed this transformation before, he and his laboratory group will be studying the process to try to pick out the most important steps.
‚ÄúWe plan to work on exactly what was in the proposal … to study how skin cells can be changed into pluripotent cells,‚ÄĚ Lu said.
Pera will use his grant to
advance his studies on the preliminary steps of cell renewal. Pera, with Hough as his assistant, is aiming to learn about the first events that occur in cell differentiation, the process where an embryonic cell develops a specific cell function.
Hough said a major hurdle in this research will be manipulating embryonic cells to become a desired cell type.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre really trying to understand the fate choice of stem cells and how the cells‚Äô microenvironment influences early fate choice,‚ÄĚ Hough said.
Until recently, federal funding for stem cell research has been limited. Now, following President Obama‚Äôs reversal of a Bush administration policy restricting institutions from supporting embryonic stem cells that were created after
Aug. 9, 2001, money is more readily available. During the eight-year period, many researchers had limited cell lines ¬≠‚ÄĒ or a group of reproducing stem cells ‚ÄĒ and equipment.
‚ÄúResearchers are more likely to do better research because they will have better stem cell lines,‚ÄĚ Pera said.
The previous ban of new cell lines did not hinder Lu‚Äôs research directly because it induced pluripotent stem cells, the kinds of cells Lu studies, were not included in the cell lines that were restricted.
Although he was not directly affected by the ban, Lu said he feels that Obama‚Äôs decision and Proposition 71, which was passed in 2004 and allotted $3 billion to stem cell research in California universities, have driven the progression of stem cell research.
‚ÄúIt was very important to stem cell research,‚ÄĚ Lu said. ‚ÄúThe lift generally benefited the stem cell community in the US ‚ÄĒ the field will move forward faster.‚ÄĚ