Prop 71-funded Stem Cell Research Begins at UC Merced

MERCED - Professors Michelle Khine, Kara McCloskey and Wei-Chun Chin expect to be able to begin today on the first UC Merced stem cell research project funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

"Our selection for a grant in the first round of CIRM funding places UC Merced among the elite research institutions in California as the state becomes a center for stem cell research," said Dean Jeff Wright of the School of Engineering. "We are so fortunate to have outstanding young faculty members building a strong foundation for bioengineering research and education. The innovation and discovery that will result from this investigation will improve our understanding of systems at the human cellular level."

The new project will focus on developing and then using a unique microsystem that can analyze and stimulate cells, monitoring their responses to different stimuli. The research team aims to use this equipment to cause embryonic stem cells to differentiate and become heart cells for potential use in transplantation. McCloskey is a bioengineer specializing in cardiovascular tissue engineering, and Chin specializes in cell signaling. Khine, the principal investigator, describes herself as the "toolmaker" on the project - she develops the instruments used to accomplish the team's goals.

All three faculty members on the team are part of UC Merced's School of Engineering.

The project will also employ two graduate students, one advised by Khine and one advised jointly by McCloskey and Chin. The professors expect these students to arrive in Merced during the summer of 2007.

In the meantime, Khine said, her lab employs four undergraduate students.

"I expect of them what I might normally expect from grad students. They're smart kids; I know they can handle it," Khine said. "They keep coming up with interesting chip designs and other novel ideas."

Opportunities for undergraduate research are more available to students at UC Merced than students at larger campuses because of the new UC's small size.

Khine will also likely be a part of transferring research technology like the technology that will be developed for the CIRM-funded project into new businesses for the San Joaquin Valley. She helped start a biotechnology company, Fluxion Biosciences, while she was working on her doctoral dissertation at UC Berkeley.

"The entrepreneurial spirit of a new campus was part of what attracted me to UC Merced," she said. "You have to have a vision to come here. There are no pre-defined roles, just lots of opportunities to build programs, start classes, form policies and help with recruitment. It's more dynamic and exciting for me this way."

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