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Broads donate $25 million for stem cell research lab

THE REGION

Their foundation gives the money to UC San Francisco, which will build a state-of-the-art facility on campus.

December 18, 2008|Richard C. Paddock

SAN FRANCISCO — Peeking to advance stem cell research in California, philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad announced Wednesday that they will donate $25 million to UC San Francisco for a state-of-the-art laboratory that will bring together some of the world's leading scientists in the field.

The gift was hailed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and University of California officials who said it could lead to new treatments for people who have spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and other debilitating conditions.

"This revolutionary science has the potential not only to improve the human condition, but it can also improve our California economy, which of course is very important right now," the governor told hundreds of people at a ceremony announcing the donation.

Eli Broad, who made fortunes in home construction and insurance, said the donation from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation was designed to accelerate research in an area that could lead to major medical breakthroughs.

"Our hope is this: that the work being done by the many talented scientists and researchers at this university and elsewhere will help improve the lives of millions of people around the world," he said.

The Broad Foundation earlier gave $30 million to USC and $20 million to UCLA to boost stem cell research there.

UC San Francisco has been in the forefront of the field since 1981 when UC San Francisco developmental biologist Gail Martin co-discovered embryonic stem cells in mice and came up with the term "embryonic stem cell." The campus subsequently developed two human embryonic stem cell lines that have been distributed to more than 70 laboratories around the world.

"We like to invest in people who are the best," Broad said, "and the best are right here at UCSF."

Many scientists believe that human embryonic stem cells, which can develop into any of the 200 cell types in the human body, hold great promise. But opponents argue that using such cells destroys human life because they are derived from human embryos created during in vitro fertilization.

Siding with opponents, the Bush administration sharply limited federal funding for stem cell research, a restriction that President-elect Barack Obama has said he will lift.

In 2004, with the governor's backing, California voters approved Proposition 71, which provides $3 billion for stem cell research and is helping the state become an international leader in the discipline.

But at UC San Francisco, like at other U.S. research facilities, federal restrictions have meant that scientists have had to segregate their research according to how it was funded, leading to unnecessary duplication, they say. It also has meant that researchers have been scattered across the campus, and in some cases, based off campus.

In one incident, two new stem cell lines developed by a UC San Francisco researcher were destroyed during a Bay Area power outage because her off-site laboratory lacked a backup power supply, unlike the campus.

Schwarzenegger, whose father-in-law, Sargent Shriver, has Alzheimer's disease, has long backed expanding stem cell research. The governor opposed President Bush's restrictions on research.

"It's a waste of money and very soon this is going to change," he said to cheers from the UC San Francisco audience. "And I am very much looking forward to that also."

The new UC San Francisco facility, expected to cost $123 million, will bring the stem cell researchers together in one building where they can communicate easily with one another and can more quickly reach patient wards for clinical trials.

Broad said his foundation has focused on providing funds to stem cell research because it offers one of the best opportunities to improve life for humankind. It also holds great promise for California's economic revival, he said.

"I think it's a great opportunity for this state," he said. "We are bringing people here from throughout the world, whether it's to UCLA, USC or UCSF. It's going to do great things for this state's economy. We are ahead of any other state in America and it's only the beginning."

Broad said that his foundation's investments have not suffered as much as other charitable foundations and that it would continue to meet its commitments.

"I never thought I would say something like this, but we are blessed to be down less than 20%," he said. "So, we are going to keep on doing what we're doing and we'll look for better times."

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richard.paddock@latimes.com

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