UC Davis researchers received a $7 million grant for stem cell research on Apr. 29, allowing labs to conduct groundbreaking research on Huntington’s Disease and in utero treatments for inherited blood cell disorders.
The grant is one of fifteen provided by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to multiple research centers across California. The overall package totals to just over $67 million and is meant to spur development in the relatively new field of embryonic stem cell therapy.
The CIRM was created just over 4 years ago with the passing of Proposition 71, which created the Institute to regulate and fund stem cell research excluding human reproductive cloning.
The funding has reached impressive numbers, totaling near $700 million dollars in grants since its inception to just over 40 private and public research centers, according to a press release.
Don Gibbons, chief communication officer for CIRM, described the source of CIRM ‘s financing.
“All of CIRM’s funding comes from tax-backed bonds, but the interest was forward funding so that absolutely no funds have come out of the state general fund during this financial crisis,” Gibbons said. “Instead, this investment … has created real jobs in research and construction at a time when the state desperately needs jobs.“
Jobs like Jan Nolta’s, who is the director of the UC Davis Stem Cell Research Program. Her laboratory was awarded $2.8 million of the recent $7 million total for work on a treatment for neurodegenerative disorders like Huntington’s Disease.
Nolta calls the grant absolutely necessary for progress to be made.
“We’re trying to move as quickly as possible to clinical trials,” Nolta said. “Without CIRM funding, progress is pretty much impossible.”
Although she has only worked in Davis for two years, her research in stem cells extends back 20 years, when she completed her master’s degree at UC Davis before spending several years at Washington University. The return to California for research was both personally and professionally rooted.
“California is at the forefront of this research,” Nolta said, “and we’re kind of setting the example for other states in this kind of work.“
“This has implications beyond Huntington’s,” she said. “The research has relevance in relation to Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s, Parkinson’s … We’re really breaking new ground towards finding effective therapies for these diseases.“
Another $4.2 million was allocated for Alice Tarantal, associate director of the UC Davis Stem Cell Program, to lead research on safe treatment for infants in utero.
The wave of new funding follows a $245 million bond sale from which CIRM draws its budget. Gibbons explained how the grants can actually provide a financial return for California taxpayers.
“The inventor, the university or company, still owns the patents, but we arrange for a small portion of the royalties to come back to the state’s general fund,” Gibbons said.
CIRM basically functions as an investor in California’s stem cell research sector, according to Gibbons. Some funding goes towards training new scientists, such as a provisional $3.6 million grant towards research training programs at UC Davis. Overall, Davis has received over $40 million from the Institute.
“The vast majority of our funding comes from CIRM,” Nolta said. “Before Prop 71 passed, we initially generated seed data (to apply for grants) through donations from Huntington’s advocates … It’s really a community, pulling together to make it happen.“
Researchers expect to make progress more quickly as projects receive more financial support, and hope to find therapies for previously untreatable disorders in the near future.