Two San Fernando Valley doctors were among a group of researchers who will share $250 million in grants awarded Wednesday for stem cell research - projects that could lead to treatments for brain cancer, macular degeneration, AIDS and sickle cell anemia.
A total of 14 teams - including researchers from the University of Southern California, the City of Hope, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, and UCLA - received funding from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state's stem cell research agency.
Three scientists with the Broad Stem Cell Research Center at UCLA were awarded a total of $50 million. As part of the approval process, these teams proved they would be ready to file an intent to begin clinical trials with the federal Food and Drug Administration.
"These are pivotal grants that have the potential to change the way we practice medicine," said a statement from Dr. Owen Witte, director of the Broad center.
The two Valley residents in the group were Dr. Donald Kohn of Tarzana and Dr. Dennis Slamon of Woodland Hills, who both work at UCLA.
Kohn, a professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at UCLA, received more than $9 million to develop blood stem cells that could eventually be used to cure sickle cell anemia.
Prevalent within the African-American community, sickle cell anemia causes misshapen red blood cells, which discourages the normal flow of blood.
"It can be cured
Kohn said his team will pursue using genetically corrected stem cells to block the sickling of the red blood cells.
The research may eventually lead to a cure for sickle-cell patients like Summer Harris, a 24-year-old Inglewood resident who attended a morning news conference at the Luxe Hotel, where the awards were announced. Because of sickle cell anemia, she experienced her first stroke when she was just 6 and another when she was 20.
"I don't get to be with friends because I'm always in the hospital," she said. "I miss out on family events like Christmas and Thanksgiving. I tell my mom, `I want to give up."'
Slamon, director of clinical/translational research at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, received about $20 million to develop drugs that target cancer stem cells, specifically those that can cause brain, ovarian and colorectal cancers.
"It's pretty exciting to have our proposal accepted," Slamon said.
Irvin Chen, director of the AIDS Institute at UCLA and a professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, received almost $20 million to develop a method to block HIV infection and reproduction in the human body.
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine was formed after voters approved Proposition 71 in 2004. The statewide ballot measure provided $3 billion for stem cell research at California universities and research institutions.
Other diseases being targeted by the teams include type 1 diabetes, heart damage, Lou Gehrig's disease, and epidermolysis bullosa, a hereditary life-threatening condition of the skin's connective layer.
The 14 awards will go to seven not-for-profit institutions and one for-profit institution. The award to the one for-profit grantee will take the form of a loan, according to CIRM.