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UC Irvine opens state's first stem cell research institute

With funding from the state and private donors, scientists at the facility will tackle Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries and macular degeneration.

May 15, 2010|By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times

The first-of-its kind stem cell research facility opened Friday at UC Irvine, with leading scientists and state officials on hand to do the honors.

UC Irvine's Sue and Bill Gross Hall: A California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is the first of seven such facilities the state agency plans to open for stem cell research at California universities.

The statewide regenerative medicine agency was created after passage of Proposition 71 in 2004 by 59% of voters, who supported new funding sources for stem cell research after then-President George W. Bush banned federal funding to develop new stem cell lines.

With a $10-million gift from Bill Gross, co-founder of PIMCO, an investment management company, UC Irvine was able to attract a $27.2-million grant from the regenerative medicine agency. The rest of the institute's $80-million cost came from private funding and the UC system.

"This is a remarkable contribution to our children and our children's children," said Robert Klein, the agency's chairman. "With great champions and great facilities, great scientists can change the world."

The state agency also gave $27 million for an institute at USC and $19.9 million for one at UCLA.

UC Irvine's institute will develop ways for stem cells to help patients with Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries and macular degeneration, among other ailments.

UC Irvine's institute houses more than 60 researchers in more than a dozen labs. Scientists there will experiment with drugs that can boost and stabilize stem cell growth and use a somewhat new technique of reverting human skin cells to a stem cell state while retaining the patient's genetic makeup.

UC Irvine institute director Peter Donovan, who previously led the stem cell program at Johns Hopkins University, credited donors and voters at Friday's dedication ceremony.

"Whatever we achieve here, it is your legacy as much as ours," he said. "The use of stem cells can revolutionize the treatment of human diseases and injuries."

The center has attracted leading scientists from Canada and the United Kingdom, Klein said.

"With this, it's not just California speaking," Klein said. "This is tangible evidence that the science is at a world-class level. California is now the world leader in stem cell research and biomedical research."

joseph.serna@latimes.com

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