UC Captures $20 Million Stem Cell Grant

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday May 15, 2008 - 09:46:00 AM

UC Berkeley and 11 other California institutions will share $271 million in state bond funds slated for construction of stem cell research labs, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine announced last week. Berkeley’s share will be $20.1 million, with total costs to get the campus facility up and running within two years estimated at $92.6 million. 

The funds come from bonds authorized by California voters in 2004 when they passed Proposition 71, a measure enacted after the President George W. Bush announced a cutoff of federal funds for research involving new stem cell lines. 

With science journalism reporting promising hints that stem cells research offers hope for congenital and genetic disorders and conditions such as Alzheimer’s, 59 percent of California voters supported the measure to authorize $3 billion in bonds. 

“This will go a long way toward medical research that could save lives and improve them for people with chronic diseases,” said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a prepared statement released Wednesday. 

Berkeley’s Stem Cell Center unites researchers from the university, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Children’s Hospital Oakland Research institute. [http://stemcellcenter.berkeley.edu/] 

Director of the center is bioengeering professor Randy Schekman, who also organized the Academic Senate support for the Energy Biosciences Institute, the $500 million research program funded by British oil company BP, which has as its focus the creation of transportation fuels from genetically modified plants and microbes. 

The bond funding will pay for part of the cost of two floors of new lab facilities to be constructed in the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, which is replacing the demolished Earl Warren Jr. Hall, according to a press release by Robert Sanders of the university’s media relations office. 

Total cost of the new facilities is expected to reach $78.6 million, Sanders said. 

Additional funds will come from Li Ka-Shing, the Hong Kong shipping magnate who gave $40 million to construct the building, as well as other private and government sources.  

The bond money was awarded by the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, the 29-member panel that administers the bond funds for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency created by the ballot measure to oversee the research. 

Berkeley’s grant fell into the second of three funding tiers. The largest award, $43.6 million, went to Stanford, which will create a $200 million new facility as one of one of seven CIRM institutes, the designation for facilities receiving up to $50 million. 

Four other University of California campuses qualified for institute-level funding—San Francisco ($34.9 million), Irvine ($27.2 million), Davis ($20 million) and Los Angeles ($19.9 million)—as did the University of Southern California ($27 million) and the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine ($43 million). 

Berkeley’s grant was one of two awards for CIRM Centers of Excellence, with grants of up to $25 million. The other recipient was the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, with $20.5 million. 

Three UC campuses won third-tier CIRM Special Programs grants: Santa Cruz ($7.2 million), Merced ($4.4 million) and Santa Barbara ($3.2 million). 

According to the CIRM’s announcement of the grants, the funds “will deliver nearly 800,000 square feet of facilities with researchers in the labs within two years.”