2007 in review: At last, stem cell research gained momentum with funding and faculty

Steve Gladfelter/VAS

The Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, headed by Irving Weissman, received new funding.

Almost three years after Californians voted to form a $3 billion agency that would fund stem cell research, money finally began flowing into institutions this year, fueling excitement over the potential applications for human embryonic stem cells.

Of the $208 million distributed by the agency, Stanford earned more than $30 million for stem cell research and for facilities where that research takes place. Stanford's share of the statewide funding was more than any other single institution.

A total of 19 School of Medicine researchers received California grant money for stem cell work. Some aim to derive different body cell types from embryonic stem cells while others explore ways to manipulate embryonic stem cells. Several grants support work to create new embryonic stem cell lines.

The work to derive new lines received another boost this year with the addition of Renee Reijo Pera, PhD, who came to Stanford from UC-San Francisco in May. As director of human embryonic stem cell research and education, she is building expertise in nuclear transfer to derive new lines.

Prospects for creating new human embryonic stem cells brightened this year with two recent advances. Researchers in Oregon derived these cells for the first time in primates by transferring the nucleus of a body cell into an egg. The first author on that paper, James Byrne, PhD, is now a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford, where he will apply the technique to human cells. In another pair of reports from Japan and Wisconsin, researchers transformed adult skin cells into cells that act like embryonic stem cells, in this case without involving human embryos in the process. Researchers at Stanford are working to understand and refine that transformation process.

"New embryonic stem cell lines should allow the entire stem cell community to participate in unraveling how genetic diseases are generated, and which of the defective genes act in what cells to cause the diseases," said Irving Weissman, director of Stanford's Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. —Amy Adams