Salk, Stanford equal partners in stem cell genomics program

Posted: February 15, 2014 at 12:40 am

Instead of being shut out of a $40 million stem cell grant awarded to Stanford University, San Diego researchers will be major partners, say the scientists who lead the project.

Joseph Ecker of the Salk Institute and Michael Snyder of Stanford say that under an informal arrangement, they will jointly allocate money granted from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine for a new center on stem cell genomics. CIRM is responsible for distributing $3 billion in state bond money to turn stem cell research into disease treatments.

Joseph Ecker, a Salk Institute researcher and co-principal investigator of the new center for stem cell genomics created with a $40 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. / Salk Institute

Genomics, the study of the complete set of genes and DNA in an organism, is necessary to help understand how stem cells function. Stem cells contain virtually the same genes as adult cells but differ in which genes are turned on and off. The signals that cause stem cells to differentiate are not well understood.

By analyzing the genomes of stem cells, researchers expect to better understand how stem cells can produce more stem cells, and which genes are involved in directing stem cells down the path to becoming adult cells of interest, such as islet cells that make insulin, bone or retinal cells.

Last months decision had been characterized as a big win for Stanford, because the university had been awarded the grant over competing applications, including one from The Scripps Research Institute and San Diego DNA sequencing giant Illumina.

Ecker and Snyder said that belief is a misunderstanding, because their proposal is a cooperative venture involving extensive participation from San Diego biomedical scientists.

Michael Snyder, a Stanford University researcher and co-principal investigator of the new center for stem cell genomics created with a $40 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. / Stanford University

The leadership issue is confusing, because CIRM requires a single institute to be listed as the lead on funding proposals, even if the institutions are sharing leadership, Ecker said by email. In fact, Mike Snyder and I, by proxy Stanford and Salk, are equal partners. Responsibility for administration of the center will fall equally to Stanford and Salk researchers, as well as strategic steering and decision-making on what projects to pursue.

Besides Salk and Stanford, partners are UC San Diego, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, the J. Craig Venter Institute, The Scripps Research Institute and UC Santa Cruz. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute also plays a role.

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Salk, Stanford equal partners in stem cell genomics program

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