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UCSF receives funding for building from California stem cell agency

Signifying a milestone in the evolution of its pioneering stem cell program, the University of California, San Francisco today received a $34.9 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to help support the construction of a regenerative medicine building on its campus.

The $119 million building, designed by renowned New York architect Rafael Violy, was approved by the UC Regents in March, contingent on UCSF receiving a portion of funding from CIRM. The remainder of funds is being raised from philanthropic donations. Ray and Dagmar Dolby donated $16 million to launch a fund raising campaign for the building in 2006. Other gifts are in development.

The building which was praised in the CIRM evaluation as a breathtaking building that exudes collaboration and interaction is a series of split-level floors with terraced grass roofs and solar orientation. Open labs flow into each other, with office/interaction areas located on the circulation route between the labs, allowing, the evaluation concluded, for the entire research community in the building [to] interact.

The facility is one of 12 planned facilities awarded funds by CIRMs governing board, under a competitive, two-stage application process that began last August with 17 facility applications. The process was administered by the CIRM Scientific and Medical Facilities Working Group (FWG), which evaluated the buildings on their scientific merit and technical value. The FWG announced their evaluations in April. UCSFs building tied for the highest score. Acting on the FWGs recommendations, the board today voted to issue $271 million in funds to the selected buildings.

The opportunity to construct the UCSF building signals a turning point in the history not only of UCSFs program, but in the field overall, says UCSF Chancellor J. Michael Bishop. The CIRM funding will allow universities throughout California to establish the infrastructure to support scientists in their quest to understand the basic biology of stem cells and other early stage cells, with the goal of turning these discoveries into therapies. This is an unprecedented opportunity."

In 1999, UCSF was the first U.S. university to carry out somatic cell nuclear transfer, which also is known as therapeutic cloning, and in 2001, was the second, after the University of Wisconsin, to derive human embryonic stem cells. Because scientists were prohibited from conducting these studies in federally funded buildings, UCSF scientists were forced to carry out their research in challenging circumstances -- first in segregated space within an existing UCSF lab, later in rented space at an off-campus site and subsequently 40 miles away at Geron Corp., through a joint project.

More recently, through a combination of private donations, university funds and CIRM grants, UCSF has been able to create space to bring the research back onto its campus. But the planned construction of a building drives the enterprise to a new level.

The building, which will be located on the Parnassus Campus, will house 25 principal investigators and their teams at full capacity. It will be the headquarters of the UCSF Institute for Regeneration Medicine, which will continue to include scientists across all UCSF campuses. The relocation of scientists into the building will free up space in existing laboratories/offices that will allow for additional recruitments. UCSF has recruited 16 new faculty members to the Institute in the last three years.

The building is designed to drive the cross-pollination of scientific ideas to a new level, says Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, director of the Institute. Scientists trying to produce insulin-producing beta cells that could be used to treat diabetes will be based near those trying to develop the brains nerve cells, because stem cells undergo nearly identical molecular signaling on the path to becoming both cell types.

At the same time, scientists studying specific signaling molecules, as opposed to particular diseases, will be strategically based, in some cases, next to scientists who are studying particular diseases. Those studying the molecule sonic hedgehog, which is involved in the specialization of neural stem cells, for instance, will be located near scientists interested in treating brain diseases.

It presents a wonderful opportunity for us to make headway, says Kriegstein, a neurologist who treats patients with brain diseases, such as Parkinsons disease, but is also seeking novel stem cell-based therapies for these illnesses.

The building will be located near UCSF Medical Center, which will support the long-term goal of translating basic research findings to clinical trials, he says. Being near existing clinical services will be a great benefit.

As stipulated by the CIRM grant, groundbreaking for the building, which has 46,283 assignable square feet and has four split-level floors, is scheduled for mid 2008, with completion of the project in mid 2010.

The major facilities grants are the fifth round of funding issued by CIRM since 2006. UCSF has been a top recipient of these previous grants, which are supporting the training of the next generation of stem cell scientists, research studies and smaller scale facilities projects.

This latest round of funding, says Kriegstein, will drive the capacity for the research to a new level.


Contact: Jennifer OBrien
University of California - San Francisco

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