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USC Gets First Round of Stem Cell Funds

USC Gets First Round of Stem Cell Funds

USC Gets First Round of Stem Cell Funds

USC Gets First Round of Stem Cell Funds

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The Keck School of Medicine of USC has received funds to begin a three-year, $3.16 million stem cell training grant as part of the first round of grants awarded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

CIRM announced that it has raised enough money to fund the first year of the program with future funding expected once ongoing litigation has been settled.

Funding for the grants came from six California philanthropic organizations, which purchased $14 million of Bond Anticipation Notes to fund the training grants awarded last year.

The Keck School of Medicine, in combination with USC-affiliated Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, received the largest portion of the new funds, totaling $1.38 million.

The Keck School’s grant was called “very thoughtful” by CIRM's Research Funding Working Group and was one of several grants announced last September by the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee, or ICOC, the group charged with governing CIRM and the way in which it disperses the $3 billion in funding provided it by the passage of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative in November 2004.

“This is an important step forward,” said Robert N. Klein, chairman of the Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee. “Stem cell research may lead to cures and therapies for a host of chronic conditions. Without the support of private investors, our progress would slow. We cannot afford to lose more time. Thanks to the leadership of these foundations, we won’t.”

“The timing of these funds becoming available is so important to us here at USC, as our newly recruited stem cell program director arrives to begin building a comprehensive and interdisciplinary center for stem cell and regenerative medicine,” said Brian E. Henderson, dean of the Keck School.

“It is critical to have these funds to begin training myriad scientists so that, ultimately, more research can be done in this promising area of research. This was the intent of the people of California when they voted for passage of Proposition 71.”

The CIRM funding follows a February announcement by donor Eli Broad of a gift of $25 million to the Keck School to help build the Broad Institute for Integrative Biology and Stem Cell Research.

The Keck School’s Stem Cell Biology Training Grant will be used to train graduate students as well as postdoctoral and clinical fellows across 27 departments at USC, with trainees being recruited from existing Ph.D. programs at the Keck School and at USC’s Andrus School of Gerontology and USC College.

They will come together to teach two new courses: an interdisciplinary course in the social, legal and ethical implications of stem cell work, and a joint course, with Childrens Hospital and the California Institute of Technology, in stem cell biology.

A key feature of the program will be newly developed courses in bioethics and a unique tri-institutional stem-cell biology lecture course, taught in conjunction with USC-affiliated Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and Caltech, that will train students in gene-transfer technology applications in the clinic, medical applications and current stem-cell research.

According to Robert Maxson, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and the principal investigator on this grant, the money also will be used to help fund “highly qualified individuals” to be designated as CIRM Scholars and to “support seminars and retreats that will build a larger community for stem cell research by involving and facilitating collaboration among students and faculty.”

“We have a terrific group of scientists at Keck and across the university who worked very hard to put this program together,” Maxson said. “I’m very gratified to be a part of it.”