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Four important stem cell projects underway at UCLA

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Stem cell research is ongoing at a rapid pace at UCLA. On January 29, the medical center announced that five of its stem cell researchers received California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Basic Biology V awards for four projects designed to achieve major milestones toward diverse stem cell therapies:

  • A novel system to study production of powerful immune cells.
  • The creation of a stem cell environment to regenerate healthy articular cartilage for future treatment of osteoarthritis.
  • New technologies to determine causes of a deadly childhood disease: spinal muscular atrophy.
  • Neural cell generation to regain sense of touch after spinal injury.

The recipients are all scientists from UCLA’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research. They comprise: 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.

Dr. Owen Witte, professor and director of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center explained, “These basic biology grants form the foundation of the revolutionary advances we are seeing in stem cell science, 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 represent a portion of CIRM’s 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 determining the secrets of key mechanisms, which determine how stem cells can develop into any cell in the body. The understanding of these mechanisms will allow researchers to create therapies that drive the stem cells to regenerate or replace damaged or diseased tissue.