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Stanford geneticist to lead major stem-cell grant

State agency approves $40 million to bridge stem-cell, genomics research

Stanford University geneticist Michael Snyder will lead a state-funded stem-cell research project that Wednesday won $40 million to create a "Center of Excellence in Stem Cell Genomics."

The award, given to Stanford, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego and five other California research institutions, will focus on bridging stem-cell research with the field of genomics – studying the complete genetic make-up of a cell or organism. Salk Institute geneticist Joseph Ecker will co-direct the five-year project.

The funds come from state taxpayers who, in 2004, created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine with passage of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.

Though only about 10 labs across the state are actively involved in the project, Snyder said the work will benefit "hundreds of labs" across California.

"We want to get genomics research out to other researchers, particularly stem-cell researchers, in California," Snyder said.

"Genomics requires sophisticated equipment and expertise and most people don't have access to that. An important part of this is collaborating on projects where we'll help groups bring genomics to more people.

"We'll take on cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurological diseases that are all approachable with stem-cell therapies and do projects related to those issues," he said.

The stem-cell agency's president, Alan Trounson, said, "Bringing together this team, to do this kind of work, means we will be better able to understand how stem cells change as they grow and become different kinds of cells.

"That deeper knowledge, that you can only get through a genomic analysis of the cells, will help us develop better ways of using these cells to come up with new treatments for deadly diseases," Trounson said.

The five other institutions participating in the $40 million project are the University of California at San Diego, the Scripps Research Institute, the J. Craig Venter Institute and Illumina, Inc., all of San Diego, and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Other competitors to lead the research grant, including the University of California at San Francisco and Scripps Research Institute, protested the awards procedure, saying the state agency had failed to disclose key criteria to all applicants, the Sacramento Bee reported.

In addition to the $40 million "Center of Excellence" award, the stem-cell agency's governing board Wednesday approved more than $27 million in funding to 27 different biology research labs in California, including $1.1 million to Stanford neurologist Gary Steinberg for study of how human neural or brain nerve stem cells can help people recovering from stroke.

The 2004 ballot measure creating the stem-cell agency provided $3 billion in funding for stem cell research at California universities and research institutions.

Chris Kenrick

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