$2.2 Million CIRM Award for Bioengineer to Create Heart Cells

MERCED - Bioengineering professor Kara E. McCloskeyof the University of California, Merced, was included in the recent announcement of approved New Faculty Awards from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. McCloskey will receive $2.2 million from CIRM, funding her efforts to induce stem cells to become heart cells that could be used to help patients whose hearts have been damaged in heart attacks or other cardiac disease incidents.

"Kara's vision and innovation in stem cell research are shaping what is emerging as an area of excellence at UC Merced."," said Dean Jeff Wright of the UC Merced School of Engineering."Her solution-focused research makes a strong statement about the impact that UC Merced's scholarship is starting to have in the state, the nation and beyond. This award is a wonderful acknowledgment by the scientific community of the value of her ideas and her commitment to quality."

"Kara is one of the several new faculty members in UC Merced's stem cell group that leverages UC Merced's inter-disciplinary environment, bringing scientists and engineers together to find solutions to complex problems," said Dean Maria Pallavicini of the School of Natural Sciences."The New Faculty Award from CIRM boosts her already exciting career trajectory as a part of the stellar future of stem cell medicine in California."

McCloskey aims to generate heart cells from human embryonic stem cells. Her research team believes this can be accomplished by applying combined chemical and electrical signals to the stem cells to "turn on" heart genes that are normally off in stem cells, producing heart cells that could be used in future therapies for heart disease patients. Their approach involves combining the signals in an array for efficient screening to determine which combinations of signals are most effective for generating the desired heart cells.

The electrical stimulation allows pacing of cardiac cells so that they actually beat at the proper rate, McCloskey said.

"Another novel aspect of this work is in packaging the cells in layers of natural three-dimensional scaffolding material," she said. "We expect this approach will enhance the total numbers and viability of the transplanted cells compared with directly injecting the cells into the dead heart tissue. The natural scaffolding will also provide mechanical strength."

She added that the science funded by this award may also eventually be applied to skin-cell derived pluripotent stem cells.

Heart disease is the leading killer of adults in the Western world.

"Currently the only way to treat failing hearts is with expensive and relatively ineffective drugs, or by heart transplantation," McCloskey said. "Ideally, we would like to be able to regenerate sick or dead heart tissue. The best strategy would be to make new heart cells that match the patients' cells - this would avoid rejection - and inject them so that they could regenerate the sick heart."

McCloskey has previously received seed grant money from CIRM along with her colleagues, professors Michelle Khine and Wei-Chun Chin, for related research. Khine is collaborating on this grant, along with Professor Ronald Li of UC Davis.

UC Merced received a Major Facilities Grant from CIRM earlier this yearto establish a Stem Cell Instrumentation Foundry, which will provide stem cell researchers at UC Merced and throughout California access to advanced instruments, techniques and collaborators for single cell analysis. Professor Jennifer O. Manilayof the School of Natural Sciences received a New Faculty Award from CIRM last year.All told, UC Merced has now received just more than $8 million in funding from CIRM.

Stem cell research at UC Merced is proceeding under the umbrella of the Health Sciences Research Institute,which will eventually serve as the research arm of the campus' planned medical school.In May of this year, the UC Regents approved continued planning for the school,now slated to begin educating doctors in the Central Valley in 2013.

For more information on the Stem Cell Research Consortium at UC Merced, please see http://stemcells.ucmerced.edu/.

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