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UCLA launches stem cell institute

UCLA launches stem cell institute

The University of California, Los Angeles, on Wednesday announced the launch of a $20 million stem cell institute that will study new approaches to treating cancer, neurological disorders, and HIV. Experts in bioengineering, imaging, molecular genetics, immunology, ethics, hematology-oncology, and cellular biology will collaborate on stem cell-related research at the institute. UCLA officials created the institute after voters in November 2004 passed an initiative approving the use of $3 billion in state tax dollars for stem cell research. "As one of the world's leading research universities, UCLA has long been engaged in adult and embryonic stem cell research with activities in areas ranging from the AIDS Institute to the Brain Research Institute to the UCLA College," said UCLA chancellor Albert Carnesale in announcing the institute. "The new UCLA Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine will enable us to continue fostering such interdisciplinary collaborations and to build upon the existing body of knowledge for the benefit of people worldwide." The stem cell center will focus its embryonic and adult stem cell research in three key areas: HIV, cancer, and neurological disorders. UCLA scientists are already exploring how HIV blocks stem cell function, as well as stem cell approaches to combating HIV disease. One potential therapeutic example includes inserting antiviral genes into blood-forming stem cells and reintroducing them into the body. As these blood cells develop, the gene protects the mature cells against HIV infection. The UCLA AIDS Institute already has completed a Phase I clinical trial using adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells also could be engineered for this strategy to avoid the need for isolating patients' cells, ease transplantation, and increase clinical usefulness. UCLA will provide $20 million over five years to launch the institute, which will enable teams of researchers to compete for state grants. The money will pay for recruitment for a dozen new faculty positions, salaries, and expansion of highly sophisticated laboratory space, infrastructure, and supplies. Owen Witte, a renowned scientist whose laboratory research laid the groundwork for development of the targeted leukemia therapy Gleevec, is director of the new institute. "Embryonic stem cells have the power to develop into every type of human tissue," said Witte, who also is a professor of microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "If we can learn how they are regulated for growth and development, we can harness this knowledge to study tissue development and regeneration and potentially come up with new ways to fight many life-threatening diseases."

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