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September 19, 2005

UCSC will get training grants from California stem cell institute


By Tim Stephens

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) last week announced its first grant awards, including a $1.2 million training grant to UCSC to establish a new training program in the systems biology of stem cells.

The UCSC program will be part of a larger CIRM Training Program in Stem Cell Research, a three-year, $12.5 million program to train predoctoral, postdoctoral, and clinical fellows at 16 institutions across the state. The UCSC grant will fund the training of three predoctoral fellows (graduate students) and three postdoctoral fellows each year.

The new program will draw from UCSC's strengths in computational genomics and basic biological research, providing fellows with a solid understanding of the biology of stem cells, the skills to use stem cells in their own research, and the ability to devise computational approaches and to integrate results from computational analyses into their own work. The program will underscore the value of stem cell research in developing therapies and cures for human disease.

David Haussler, professor of biomolecular engineering and director of the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering, will serve as program director. Trainees will receive guidance from faculty mentors with a range of expertise in areas critical for advancing stem cell research. Faculty mentors from the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology as well as the Baskin School of Engineering will be involved in the program.

"This program reflects our commitment to interdisciplinary research and education at the interface of science and engineering, and it takes advantage of the fact that many of our faculty regularly work across the divisional boundaries," Haussler said.

In addition to Haussler, the faculty mentors for the program will include Joshua Stuart and James Kent from the Department of Biomolecular Engineering; Michael Isaacson, professor and chair of electrical engineering; and Manuel Ares, Andrew Chisholm, David Feldheim, Lindsay Hinck, Yishi Jin, William Sullivan, John Tamkun, and Martha Zúñiga from the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology.

The program will include a broad range of courses designed to offer a comprehensive education in stem cell science and ethics. Several new courses are planned, including an ethics course that will explore fundamental questions about the ethical, legal, and social implications of stem cell research.

The CIRM was established in 2004 with the passage of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative. The statewide ballot measure provided $3 billion in funding for stem cell research at California universities and research institutions. Dispersal of these funds has been delayed, however, because lawsuits filed by opponents of the initiative currently prevent the CIRM from issuing bonds.

As a result, CIRM will fund the new program through bond anticipation notes (BANs), a form of bridge financing, which are designed to be purchased by philanthropic individuals and institutions. The financing team of the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee (ICOC) plans to proceed with the first BANs issuance for this program in October.

"This is an exciting moment for the CIRM as these awards mark the first step in our scientific program of stem cell research--an accomplishment we have been able to achieve in less than one year as a state agency. The CIRM training program established today will be the most comprehensive training program to date in the field," said CIRM president Zach Hall. "It will provide a pipeline of highly trained basic and clinical investigators for the research that CIRM will fund in California."

Additional information about CIRM is available at http://www.cirm.ca.gov.

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