From the Director, Aileen J. Anderson
Stem cells took some of us, perhaps many of us, by surprise. The potential of these small cells to change the face of our understanding of human development, and where we have been, and to transform medicine, and where we are going, has reshaped biomedical research.
I started my research career studying how single genes could report on the activation of cells in the brain. In graduate school, I was taught that cells in the brain could not, and did not, renew. That, in fact, we were each born with all of these cells that we would ever have – and it was quite literally all optimization, and otherwise downhill, from there. I could never have guessed that thirteen years later, in 2002, I would start to work in the new, break-neck speed field of stem cell research.
After sixteen enlightening years, 2018 represents even more new ground for me as a scientist at UCI. It is my great privilege to follow founding co-directors Drs. Peter Donovan and Hans Keirstead, and subsequently, director Dr. Sidney Golub to become the fourth Director of the University of California Irvine Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center (UCI SCRC). Peter, working with many, many others, built the SCRC from literally the ground up. When Peter arrived, the idea of a center for stem cell research and regenerative medicine at UCI was an idea without a single tangible element to go along with it. Indeed, California’s Stem Cell Agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) was only created in 2004, when 59% of California voters approved Proposition 71: the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, and did not issue its first award until 2006.
Over the next seven years, Peter built first a stem cell incubator, where faculty from across the UCI campus could come, learn, and work in this emerging area, dramatically expanding the level of expertise and number of faculty in this area. Next, launched with a foundational $10 million dollar lead gift from Sue & Bill Gross, many additional major philanthropic gifts, and a $27.2 million dollar grant from CIRM, he turned his attention to building a lasting center, culminating in the opening of the $89-million, 100,000 square foot UCI SCRC in 2010.
Today at the UCI SCRC, stem cells, and more broadly, regenerative medicine, are our business. As a team, Dr. Golub, Dr. Steven Cramer, myself, and now Dr. Daniela Bota as the new director of this initiative, brought UCI to the forefront of stem cell and regenerative medicine research with the initiation of the UCLA-UCI Alpha Stem Cell Clinic. Operating through clinical space located in the SCRC, the Alpha Stem Cell Clinic is the coordinating center for ongoing clinical trials in stem cells and regenerative medicine at UCI, bringing us full circle from “bench to bedside” in stem cell research.
Today’s UCI SCRC is a dynamic center encompassing a diverse array of interdisciplinary investigators that span the schools of Medicine, Biological Sciences, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Engineering, Arts, and Law. Our state-of-the-art, LEED Platinum certified research and clinical building houses 23 of our 48 center faculty members. Center faculty have obtained more than $170 million dollars in grant and foundation funds (including over $105 million dollars from CIRM). Our research programs include an NIH-sponsored T32 training grant, state of the art shared equipment and research services programs and a seminar series.
Moreover, philanthropy, so key to research success in these times, has enabled a seed grant program in which we have been able to fund 14 projects, with an average return on investment in new grants of 17-fold. Looking ahead to the next year, I am excited to build on these successes. New resources committed by the School of Medicine, College of Health Sciences, and Provost’s office will enable us to add six new faculty members; three directly to the SCRC, and three additional hires as the result of a successful SCRC-led application for the Faculty Hires for Leveraged Research Excellence (FHLRE) initiative, in cooperation with the Schools of Engineering and Biological Sciences. Additionally, we are expanding our core facilities with the addition of new equipment and a gene editing core, and working hard on expanding the UCI Alpha Stem Cell Clinic pipeline. Finally, I am delighted to announce the addition of a newly launched 2018-2019 community lecture series for the public. I hope to see you there!
Director Aileen J. Anderson