A research team led by UC Irvine neurobiologist Hans Keirstead will generate up to five new human embryonic stem cell lines to be used for research into treatments for spinal cord injury and diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. The lines will be the first developed at UCI.
Keirstead, co-director of UCI’s Stem Cell Research Center, and Gabriel Nistor, a scientist in his laboratory, will derive the new lines from surplus embryos donated by couples undergoing fertility treatment at West Coast Fertility Centers in Orange County.
Embryo donations will be made with the informed consent of donor couples and under a procedure approved by UCI’s Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee.
Once the lines have been created and tested in labs at UCI, Keirstead plans to make them available to researchers worldwide free of charge.
“Generating new stem cell lines is an essential next step in the progression of stem cell research toward the development of new research tools and treatments for human disease,” said Keirstead, associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology.
“We are committed to making these lines available to the scientific community so that other researchers may join us in our pursuit of better therapies for devastating diseases.”
Keirstead will work with Dr. David Diaz, West Coast Fertility Centers’ medical director, to use novel techniques for developing the new lines, as well as freezing and preserving the lines after they have been created. The techniques for freezing and preserving lines were developed at the clinic for the preservation of embryos.
New embryonic stem cell lines are derived from three- to five-day-old embryos produced during fertilization treatments. The excess embryos are often frozen indefinitely or discarded as medical waste. Donors must give permission before these embryos can be used for research purposes.
Keirstead will make lines not only from healthy embryos, but also from embryos known to harbor genetic abnormalities. Stem cells derived from these lines can be used as cellular models of human disease that may help scientists better understand these genetic diseases.
Funding for the development of new lines at UCI will come from private sources. Since 2001, the U.S. government limits funding for stem cell research to lines that were already in existence before that date.
Keirstead is one of the nation’s pioneers in the use of human embryonic stem cells in the study of spinal cord injuries. In 2005, he used a treatment derived from human embryonic stem cells to improve mobility in rats with spinal cord injuries. He plans to use any new stem cell lines he develops for further research in spinal cord injury and disease in his laboratory.
The creation of new stem cell lines represents another step in UCI’s development as one of the premier centers for stem cell research in California. The university plans to construct a $60 million Stem Cell Research Institute facility aimed at propelling stem cell technology from the research lab to the clinic.