Since the completion of the UCSC CIRM Shared Stem Cell Facility (SSCF), UCSC continues to make great strides in building an exceptional interdisciplinary stem cell research program addressing fundamental issues in stem cell biology , focusing on the genomic, molecular and cellular mechanisms regulating stem cell self-renewal and differentiation. UCSC’s contributions to stem cell research fall into two broad categories – (1) the basic biology governing stem cell identity, behavior, ability to self renew, and contribution to development, and (2) the biology of multipotent stem cells committed to following specific developmental fate pathways. In this report we highlight the work of developmental biologists who are taking varied approaches to understand the mechanisms that govern specification and maintenance of stem cell identity, and to delineate the earliest steps towards forming an embryo. We also highlight investigators who study genetic, molecular and cellular factors that govern decisions of multipotent precursor cells to progress along specific cell fate pathways to form key tissues and organs, such as breast, muscle and the nervous, hematopoietic and immune systems.
This year, UCSC labs moved from model organism to human stem cells, delved into induced pluripotent stem cells, started transplantation studies, published their work, and made additional progress toward the goals of their stem cell projects. The research opportunities provided by the SSCF have allowed UCSC’s newer stem cell faculty to establish competitive research programs and enabled existing faculty to pursue their stem cell research goals. As a result, UCSC laboratories are making significant progress in areas that are vital to furthering the goals of CIRM and the field of regenerative medicine. For example, Prof. Bin Chen has successfully differentiated hESCs into cortical neurons in culture, transplanted into neonatal mice and observed their axons extending into the spinal cord. Prof. Camilla Forsberg is making great progress in understanding the molecular changes in leukemia-initiating hematopoietic stem cells, and Prof. Lindsay Hinck is discovering important molecular pathways involved in the transition of mammary stem cells to breast cancer.
This progress has been achieved because of the opportunities afforded by our CIRM shared facility, which is successful due to two primary factors: it’s unique design, with separate areas for cell culture, cytometry, microscopy, analysis and teaching, all maintained to provide state-of-the-art equipment in clean, safe, highly functional workspaces; and the exceptional full-time staff that have been hired. Their combined skills, experience, knowledge, and dedication ensure that each core within the facility is operating efficiently, optimally and in compliance with all regulatory requirements. In addition, in the past year, the facility purchased over 64% of our goods and services from California suppliers, exceeding the CIRM target level of 50%. In sum, with the SSCF, UCSC has become one of the California Institutions making stem cell-based therapies a reality.