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State stem cell research funding agency awards $20 million to UCI, StemCells Inc.

Irvine, Calif., July 26, 2012 Efforts to begin human clinical trials using stem cells to treat cervical spinal cord injury in the U.S. received a $20 million boost Thursday, July 26, from the state's stem cell research funding agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

The award will be shared by Aileen Anderson and Brian Cummings, associate professors of physical medicine & rehabilitation at UC Irvine's Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, and Nobuko Uchida of StemCells Inc. in Newark, Calif. Anderson and Cummings proved that transplanting human neural stem cells discovered and developed by Stem Cells, Inc. into rodents with thoracic spinal cord injury could restore mobility. The CIRM award announced Thursday will fund the collection of data necessary to establish human clinical trials in the U.S.

"Our therapeutic approach is based on the hypothesis that transplanted human neural stem cells integrate into the injured spinal cord to repair the protective myelin sheath and spinal circuitry," Anderson said. "Any therapy that can partially reverse some of the effects of spinal cord injury could substantially change the quality of life for patients by altering their dependence on assisted living and medical care."

CIRM's governing board on Thursday gave authorized $150 million for eight teams at five institutions statewide. The projects backed are considered critical to the institute's mission of translating basic stem cell discoveries into clinical cures.

"CIRM's support for UC Irvine's efforts to advance novel stem cell-based therapies for a variety of diseases is extremely gratifying," said Peter Donovan, director of the university's Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center. "This latest award for spinal cord treatment holds great promise. We are delighted."

About 1.3 million Americans suffer chronically from spinal cord injuries. In California, nearly 147,000 individuals are living with such damage, which can severely impair the movement, sensation and autonomic function of otherwise healthy people. Recovery from spinal cord injury is often limited, even after aggressive emergency intervention with steroids and surgery, followed by rehabilitation.

"That's crushing for anyone," Anderson noted. "It's very tough for patients and their families. We believe stem cell therapies could provide significant functional recovery, improve quality of life and reduce the cost of care for those with spinal cord injury. That's our goal."

Anderson's and Cummings' laboratory has a long history of collaboration with StemCells Inc. in addressing spinal cord injury, including studies that led to the world's first clinical trial of a neural stem cell therapy for chronic spinal cord injury. This Phase I/II clinical trial, currently under way in Zurich, recently reported positive safety data from the first cohort of treated patients and continues to enroll subjects.

"We are very encouraged by the preliminary results in these volunteers" Cummings said, "and we are excited to receive CIRM funding to enable us to extend this approach to those with cervical injuries and to patients in the U.S."


Contact: Cathy Lawhon
University of California - Irvine

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