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UCLA to get $20-million gift for stem cell research

Philanthropist Eli Broad will announce the donation, which will be used to spur the study of both embryonic and adult stem cells.

September 10, 2007|Charles Ornstein | Times Staff Writer

Philanthropist Eli Broad is set to announce a $20-million donation today to UCLA for stem cell research, the latest in a series of large gifts that position California universities at the forefront of the promising scientific field.

The gift from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation will be used to buy laboratory equipment, provide research grants and endow professorships. In turn, UCLA will change the name of its Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine to the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research.

Broad will announce the donation at UCLA this morning, joined by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and school officials.

This is Broad's second major gift involving stem cell research, having already donated $25 million to USC in February 2006 to build a stem cell research building on its medical school campus.

Embryonic stem cell research has taken off in California following voter approval in 2004 of Proposition 71, an initiative that will allocate $3 billion to search for treatments for Parkinson's disease, diabetes and other debilitating and fatal conditions.

"California, in my mind, will without a doubt be the leader in North American stem cell research as a result of Proposition 71 and the great research universities we have," Broad said in an interview Sunday.

Broad said he hoped USC and UCLA would collaborate on projects, but added that both universities must have the resources to begin their own research. He did not rule out future donations for stem cell initiatives, saying, "We may do more as time goes on, depending on the need."

Dr. Owen Witte, director of UCLA's stem cell institute, said UCLA had done well competing for grants, but Broad's donation would allow the university to go further.

"This is huge in many senses of the word," he said. "In addition to the amount of money being quite wonderful, it's flexible money to spend on what we think are the most important things when we need them. That's very hard to anticipate coming from any other funding source."

Broad's gift to UCLA will fund research into both embryonic and adult stem cells, the latter being less controversial.

Supporters believe embryonic stem cells are promising because they can be grown into any type of cell in the body.

Opponents say such research effectively destroys human life because the cells are derived from human embryos created during in vitro fertilization treatments.

In 2001, President Bush restricted federal funding to a small number of embryonic stem cell lines, saying he had moral concerns about the destruction of embryos. Bush's decision prompted advocates in California to draft Proposition 71, officially known as the California Stem Cell Research and Cures act.

Early obstacles facing the state's effort have been lifted this year.

In May, the California Supreme Court turned aside a legal challenge to Proposition 71's constitutionality, clearing the way for the state to issue bonds to fund the research. Before then, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine relied on loans from the state general fund and philanthropists to make an initial round of grants to scientists.

California universities have landed large donations to build new labs and begin their research. In May 2006, UC San Francisco received a $16-million donation. Two months later, UC Irvine landed a $10-million gift from Newport Beach fund manager Bill Gross and his wife, Sue. Stanford University has received gifts of $20 million and $33 million for research and construction.

State treasurer Bill Lockyer's office has set Sept. 27 as the date for the first offering of bonds to finance the research -- $250 million in taxable general obligation bonds. Proceeds from the first bond sale will be used to repay loans.

Despite the competition for funding and grants among California universities, UCLA's Witte said there was plenty of stem cell research to go around. "The question is so complex that having lots of good people work on it is perfectly fine."

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charles.ornstein@latimes.com

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