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UC Merced Wins $4.36 Million from CIRM for Stem Cell Instrumentation Foundry

May 7, 2008

The University of California, Merced, has been chosen as the location for a Stem Cell Instrumentation Foundry funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The facility, anticipated to cost about $7.5 million total, will be supported with $4.36 million from CIRM through its Major Facilities Grant program. UC Merced officials anticipate the foundry will be housed at the university’s facility on the former Castle Air Force Base.

“CIRM recognized a unique opportunity in funding the Stem Cell Instrumentation Foundry at UC Merced,” said UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang. “Creating this facility here boosts UC Merced’s long-term goal to transform the San Joaquin Valley’s economy, health care access and education as we offer more students a UC education and plan a medical school to serve the region.”

CIRM announced award recipients in the Major Facilities Grant program today at a press conference in Los Angeles. UC Merced’s proposal was approved as one of the “Special Programs” grants — the category for projects costing $5 million to $10 million.

UC Merced will build a unique facility that will enable investigators at UC Merced and elsewhere in California to apply sophisticated technologies to understand how stem cells make decisions.

“This is a critical step in developing strategies to guide stem cell decisions for regenerative medicine,” said Dean Maria Pallavicini of the UC Merced School of Natural Sciences. “The Stem Cell Instrumentation Foundry will offer scientists on campus and throughout California access to advanced instruments, techniques and collaborations for single-cell analysis — including opportunities to co-develop customized instruments, such as lab-on-a-chip, using online tools so that they can rapidly adopt cutting-edge research technologies.

“The facility exemplifies the close interactions and synergies between scientists and engineers in UC Merced’s interdisciplinary environment. Concepts for the facility proposal were developed jointly by stem cell faculty the Schools of Natural Science and Engineering, the Stem Cell Consortium.”

Pallavicini is an internationally recognized stem cell researcher specializing in studies related to breast cancer and leukemia. She and Michelle Khine, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering who specializes in the design and building of devices, are the primary architects of the UC Merced’s Major Facilities Grant application to CIRM. Pallavicini also leads planning for UC Merced’s medical school.

“UC Merced is particularly well suited for a collaborative effort like the Stem Cell Instrumentation Foundry that we proposed,” said Khine. “Because we are such young institution, it’s up to us to shape the culture of this place. By creating such a facility, we can catalyze a paradigm shift in the way science is done. By marrying cutting edge technology development with one of the most important fields of biomedical research, we can forge a new, more efficient path to discovery.”

The Stem Cell Instrumentation Foundry at UC Merced

Pallavicini said the foundry will build on UC Merced’s strengths in stem cell biology, innovative instrumentation design and interdisciplinary research. The facility will also offer service and training to participating scientists statewide.

UC Merced faculty members who plan to participate in the Stem Cell Instrumentation Foundry along with Pallavicini include the following:

  • Professor Michelle Khine (School of Engineering), who specializes in designing and developing advanced microsystems for stem cell differentiation using “lab-on-a-chip” techniques.
  • Professor Kara McCloskey (School of Engineering), who investigates mechanically induced stem cell differentiation toward endothelial cells (the cells that line blood vessels).
  • Professor Wei-Chun Chin (School of Engineering), who researches Ca2+ signals that influence the development of cardiac cells, with potential applications for repairing cardiac tissue.
  • Professor Marcos García-Ojeda (School of Natural Sciences), who studies how changes in the microenvironment induce bone marrow stem cells to become lymphocytes.
  • Professor Jennifer O. Manilay (School of Natural Sciences), who examines interactions between developing stem cells and their environments in the thymus and bone marrow.
  • Professor Michael Cleary (School of Natural Sciences), who studies how stem cells commit to become brain cells in a Drosophila (fruit fly) model
  • Professor Michael Colvin (School of Natural Sciences), who uses mathematical and computational modeling to address questions in biology, such as stem cell fate decisions.

UC Merced already uses an innovative, shared-space approach with many of its important laboratories, including a genomics facility, the Atul Roy Family Genome Center of Excellence, and an imaging and microscopy facility, both of which support stem cell research. This “Core Lab” model maximizes efficiency and encourages collaboration among faculty members. The Stem Cell Instrumentation Foundry is expected to proceed using a similar model.

The proposed facility would include two clean rooms, specialized spaces for cell imaging and culture work, and support and office space.

About CIRM and the Major Facilities Grant Program

CIRM’s Major Facilities Grant program was launched in August 2007 as a two-part application process. In fall 2007, CIRM’s Scientific and Medical Research Grants Working Group evaluated the scientific merit of 17 proposals submitted in response to the request for application. On Jan. 16, the Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee (ICOC) approved Part 1 of the applications, inviting 12 institutions to advance to the second and final part of the application process. Part 2 of the application focuses on the technical aspects of an applicant’s building program, how the scientific program aligns with the CIRM’s objectives, and why the program represents a good value for California taxpayers’ investment. The review was conducted by the 10-member Scientific and Medical Research Facilities Working Group made up of real estate experts, patient advocates and the chairman of the ICOC. This meeting was open to the public.

Since April 2006, when CIRM awarded its first scientific grants under the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, the Institute has funded 156 grants totaling nearly $260 million for investigator-initiated research and training to 22 California nonprofit and academic institutions. The first grants directed $37.5 million for training 169 pre-doctoral, post-doctoral and clinical fellows at 16 nonprofit and academic research institutions. In 2007, the ICOC approved 73 Leon J. Thal SEED Grants totaling more than $46 million to bring new ideas and new investigators into the field of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research; 28 Comprehensive Research Grants totaling nearly $72 million to support mature, ongoing studies on hESCs by scientists with a record of accomplishment in the field; 17 Shared Research Laboratory Grants totaling more than $50 million; and 22 New Faculty Awards of more than $54 million to encourage the next generation of clinical and scientific leaders in stem cell research.