Stem cell agency’s grants to UCLA help set stage for revolutionary medicine

Posted: January 31, 2014 at 8:44 am



Contact: Shaun Mason 310-206-2805 University of California - Los Angeles

Scientists from UCLA's Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research were today awarded grants totaling more than $3.5 million by California's stem cell agency for their ongoing efforts to advance revolutionary stem cell science in medicine.

Recipients of the awards from the California Institute of Renerative Medicine (CIRM) included Lili Yang ($614,400), who researches how stem cells become rare immune cells; Denis Evseenko ($1,146,468), who is studying the biological niche in which stem cells grow into cartilage; Thomas Otis and Bennet Novitch ($1,148,758), who are using new techniques to study communication between nerve and muscle cells in spinal muscular atrophy; and Samantha Butler ($598,367), who is investigating the molecular elements that drive stem cells to become the neurons 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. "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 are part of CIRM's Basic Biology V grant program, which fosters cutting-edge research on significant unresolved issues in human stem cell biology, with a focus on unravelling the key mechanisms that determine how stem cells decide which cells they will become. By learning how such mechanisms work, scientists can develop therapies that drive stem cells to regenerate or replace damaged or diseased tissue.

Lili Yang: Tracking special immune cells

The various cells that make up human blood all arise from hematopoietic stem cells. These include special white blood cells called T cells, the "foot soldiers" of the immune system that attack bacteria, viruses and other disease-causing invaders. Among these T cells is a smaller group, a kind of "special forces" unit known as invariant natural killer T cells, or iNKT cells, which have a remarkable capacity to mount immediate and powerful responses to disease when activated and are believed to be important to the immune system's 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 generally accounting for less than 1 percent of blood cells but can differ greatly in numbers among individuals. Very little is known about how blood stem cells produce iNKT cells.

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Stem cell agency's grants to UCLA help set stage for revolutionary medicine

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