University of California San Diego

Blood has been among the most sought after and hardest to achieve tissue that CIRM grantees are attempting to derive from embryonic stem cells. It's an obvious target. The medical system needs a constant influx of blood, which comes entirely from volunteer donors. Creating that blood in an unlimited supply from human embryonic stem cells would significantly ease concerns about blood shortages at hospitals.

CIRM grantees at the Scripps Research Institute, University of California, San Diego and Sanford-Burnham Research Institute have taken an intriguing step toward producing neural progenitor cells for research or therapies. The team, led by Sheng Ding who has recently moved to the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, started with mouse skin cells and converted them directly to an early stage of neural cell. The work was published in the April 26 online issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found a protein that protects the brain from the kind of damage that can lead to Parkinson's disease. This protein, called Nurr1, has a long history in Parkinson's disease research. People who carry a mutation in the gene are prone to developing the disease. The new work explains how the protein prevents Parkinson's disease and could also help researchers find ways of treating of preventing the disease.

Researchers at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research and the University of California, San Diego have found parallels between how the pancreas develops in the embryo and type II diabetes (also known as adult diabetes). When the pancreas develops in an embryo, a protein called Wnt (pronounced "wint) helps control how the cells mature into insulin-producing cells. In most adults, the pancreas contains very little Wnt protein, but in people with type II diabetes Wnt protein is abundant in the pancreas.

Researchers at the The Scripps Research Institute found a new way of classifying the many cell types that fall under the category of "stem cells." The term stem cell refers to tissue specific stem cells found in mature tissues such as blood, brain, or muscle, which are restricted to forming only cells found in those tissues, as well as to embryonic stem cells that are broadly able to form all cells of the body.

Researchers at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies discovered that stem cells in the testes of fruit flies are able to generate their own support cells. This work in flies could help guide researchers hoping to understand the environment surrounding resident populations of human stem cells - called the niche. The niche is difficult to study in humans but is an area of great interest because any therapy based on transplanting stem cells into a tissue will require those cells to be paced in a niche where they will thrive.

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute discovered that human embryonic stem cells have a very specific signature when it comes to the regulators of their genes. MicroRNAs are very small, naturally occurring bits of genetic material. They don't code for specific proteins like genes do, but they regulate the activity of genes and turn on and off their protein production.

Researchers at UC, San Diego verified a suspect gene mutation in blood-forming stem cells was by itself necessary and sufficient to cause a class of severe blood diseases called myeloproliferative disorders. They then worked with a team of researchers from other academic institutions and from the San Diego pharmaceutical company TargeGen to conduct animal tests of a compound TargeGen had already isolated and shown to inhibit that same genetic pathway. As a result of this broad collaboration, human clinical trials for this potential therapy began in February, 2008.