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$2.2 Million CIRM Award for Bioengineer to Create Heart Cells

August 18, 2008

MERCED - Bioengineering professor

Kara E. McCloskey
of 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 year
to 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. Manilay
of 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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