Stem Cell Agency Helps Set the Stage for Revolutionary Medicine

Posted: January 29, 2014 at 10:42 pm

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Newswise Scientists from UCLAs Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research have received new awards from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state stem cell research agency, that will forward revolutionary stem cell science in medicine.

Recipients included Dr. Lili Yang, assistant professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics who received $614,400 for her project to develop a novel system for studying how stem cells become rare immune cells; Dr. Denis Evseenko, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery, who received $1,146,468 for his project to identify the elements of the biological niche in which stem cells grow most efficiently into articular cartilage cells; Dr. Thomas Otis, professor and chair of neurobiology and Dr. Ben Novitch, assistant professor of neurobiology, who received $1,148,758 for their project using new light-based optigenetic techniques to study the communication between nerve and muscle cells in spinal muscular atrophy, an inherited degenerative neuromuscular disease in children; and Dr. Samantha Butler, assistant professor of neurobiology, received $598,367 for her project on discovering which molecular elements drive stem cells to become the neurons, or nerve cells, in charge of our sense of touch.

These basic biology grants form the foundation of the revolutionary advances we are seeing in stem cell science, said Dr. Owen Witte, professor and director of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center, and every cellular therapy that reaches patients must begin in the laboratory with ideas and experiments that will lead us to revolutionize medicine and ultimately improve human life. That makes these awards invaluable to our research effort.

The awards were part of CIRMs Basic Biology V grant program, carrying on the initiative to foster cutting-edge research on significant unresolved issues in human stem cell biology. The emphasis of this research is on unravelling the secrets of key mechanisms that determine how stem cells, which can become any cell in the body, differentiate, or decide which cell they become. By learning how these mechanisms work, scientists can then create therapies that drive the stem cells to regenerate or replace damaged or diseased tissue.

Using A New Method to Track Special Immune Cells All the different cells that make up the blood come from hematopoietic or blood stem cells. These include special white blood cells called T cells, which serve as the foot soldiers of the immune system, attacking bacteria, viruses and other invaders that cause diseases.

Among the T cells is a smaller group of cells called invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells, which have a remarkable capacity to mount immediate and powerful responses to disease when activated, a small special forces unit among the foot soldiers, and are believed to be important to immune system regulation of infections, allergies, cancer and autoimmune diseases such as Type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

The iNKT cells develop in small numbers in the blood, usually less than 1 percent of all the blood cells, and can differ greatly in numbers between individuals. Very little is known about how the blood stem cells produce iNKT cells.

Dr. Lili Yangs project will develop a novel model system to genetically program human blood stem cells to become iNKT cells. Dr. Yang and her colleagues will track the differentiation of human blood stem cells into iNKT cells providing a pathway to answer many critical questions about iNKT cell development.

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Stem Cell Agency Helps Set the Stage for Revolutionary Medicine

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