UW Today

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September 4, 2007

NIGMS awards University of Washington $10 million for human embryonic stem cell research

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), one of the National Institutes of Health, has funded a new research program at the University of Washington focused on the study of the basic biology of human embryonic stem cells.

As one of only two such programs in the nation, the UW group is composed of investigators with diverse expertise to research the unique properties of human embryonic stem cells. The findings will lead to a better understanding of how stem cells self-renew and become specific cell types, bringing stem cell-based therapies a step closer to clinical practice. The research funded through this grant is restricted to the 21 human embryonic stem cell lines approved by President Bush in August 2001.

The UW research program is comprised of four projects and a human embryonic stem cell core laboratory, directed by Dr. Carol Ware, UW associate professor of Comparative Medicine. The program is led by C. Anthony Blau, M.D., professor of medicine and hematology and co-director of the UW Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine. Blau’s team, which will receive about $10 million over five years, will study the pathways human embryonic stem cells use to self-renew and how they differentiate into heart muscle cells and retinal nerve cells.

“This funding will enable us to dramatically expand the work begun in 2003, when we were first funded as the University of Washington / Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Exploratory Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research,” Blau said. “To date, our human embryonic stem cell core lab has acquired and characterized 14 of the 21 NIH-approved human embryonic stem cell lines, and has assisted 18 laboratories in work related to this research.”

The program will include core facilities that will develop new methods and resources to advance research on human embryonic stem cells and train investigators in the specialized techniques and technologies needed to study them.

The source of human embryonic stem cells is limited to federally approved stem cell lines listed on the National Institutes of Health Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry. The new research program joins an ongoing NIGMS-supported effort, launched in 2003, to uncover the basic molecular and genetic features of human embryonic stem cells. NIGMS funds three exploratory centers and several independent projects focused on human embryonic stem cell research.