University makes strides with new stem cell center

In defiance of the federal government’s faltering and hesitant stance on stem cell research, USC is paving the way for life-saving techniques and revolutionary research with the opening of a new stem cell research center on the Health Sciences Campus.

An 87,500-square-foot, five-story architectural marvel, the Eli and Edythe Broad California Institute for Regenerative Medicine Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research joins the ranks of other CIRM-funded facilities across California.

Julia Vann | Daily Trojan

The center received a $27-million grant from CIRM, bringing the total amount of grant funding to $60 million, and lifting USC into third place in the state for the most stem cell research funding, behind Stanford University and UC San Francisco.

Scientists with the center focus on cardiology, ophthalmology, neurology, cancer, liver disease and diabetes within the three primary areas of inquiry of discovery stem cell research: preclinical research, preclinical development and clinical research.

The center conjoins USC’s Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute and the Harlyne J. Norris Cancer Research Tower into a “research triangle” in a transdiscliplinary, collaborative effort in solving pressing medical issues. It also partners with the City of Hope Medical Center and Research Center and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

But the opening of the new facility is not without its controversies.

Stem cell research has been a hot-button issue for many years, and this center does use embryonic stem cells.

To complicate the debate, on Aug. 23, federal district judge Royce Lamberth issued an injunction halting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research — including millions from the National Institute of Health, one of the largest financial supporters for research. Hundreds of projects were placed in indeterminate hiatus.

The new USC center, however, sidesteps the injunction by receiving funds only from state grants and private donors, eliminating the concern for federally imposed restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

And what better place for independence and innovation in stem cell research than California?

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the center, Eli Broad, who donated $30 million toward the project, said “We have the best scientists and researchers right here at USC. And with California leading the way in stem cell advances, it’s only logical that we create the institutions and facilities around the campus that are going to continue to accelerate stem cell research here in our backyard.”

California proves an ideal state for stem cell funding because of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act, which passed with an overwhelming majority in 2004. Proposition 71 created CIRM and allocated $3 billion for stem cell research in California universities and other institutes.

CIRM funding, along with private philanthropies, support crucial research in stem cells, allowing California — and now USC — to spearhead the movement, even if Washington, D.C. is not ready for the future of health research.

The new center proves USC’s willingness and eagerness to embrace innovative technologies and cutting-edge research without catering to the vagaries of national politics.

But USC has steadily been expanding and developing into a research-intensive powerhouse among universities and institutions. The Keck School of Medicine’s epidemiological cancer surveillance research program received $23.5 million in federal grants in August. Further, USC Trustee Ming Hsieh’s  recently announced a gift of $50 million to create the USC Ming Hsieh Institute for Research on Engineering-Medicine for Cancer in exploring nanomedicine for cancer.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research is but the latest advancement in USC’s continual transformation as a vanguard of health science innovation, proving that the university is willing to take bold steps forward to benefit science.

Rebecca Gao is a freshman majoring in global health.