$43M grant for state-of-the-art stem cell facility

Courtesy of Zimmer, Gunsul Frasca Architects

The architect’s rendering of the planned Stanford Institutes of Medicine 1 building, known as SIM1, which will house stem cell research with space optimized for experiments by researchers working with adult, embryonic and cancer stem cells.

The School of Medicine has received a $43.58 million grant toward funding a new building that will house stem cell research on campus, a facility that will consolidate stem cell researchers, speed the path toward new stem cell-based therapies and help recruit new faculty.

The grant, from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, was part of a $271 million statewide round of funding approved May 7 by the institute's oversight committee at a meeting in Los Angeles. The committee approved grants funding 12 buildings for stem cell research at institutes throughout California.

The round of funding will create nearly 800,000 square feet of new space statewide dedicated to stem cell research. The stem cell agency expects the new facilities to accelerate the pace of stem cell research in California and bring the state closer to new therapies for debilitating diseases.

The buildings, with space optimized for experiments with stem cells and corresponding shared research facilities, are expected to be a draw for researchers outside California whose work is hindered by the lack of federal funding. As with previous grants, funding for the new facilities comes from the sale of 30-year bonds for stem cell research rather than from the state budget.

The state-of-the-art facility will be called the Stanford Institutes of Medicine 1. Irving Weissman, MD, director of Stanford's Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine Institute, said the potential of the new facility and stem cell funding in the state is helping with the recruitment of new faculty who will enhance the school's stem cell program.

"SIM1 is the place where we will bring together a group of scientists interested in all aspects of stem cell biology and cancer stem cell research," Weissman said. He described the latter as related to stem cell biology, cancer therapeutics and cancer clinical trials.

The grant to Stanford will go toward a four-floor, 200,000-sq.-ft. building to be located on the south side of the medical school along Campus Drive. It will bring together researchers working with adult, embryonic, cancer and reprogrammed stem cells under a single roof. Currently, those researchers are spread between buildings on campus and at a satellite lab space a few miles off campus.

Stanford and UC-San Francisco scored the highest on their grant applications, with Stanford receiving the most funding of any single institution.

California's stem cell institute considers funding these buildings a crucial step in its ambitious, 10-year goal of generating new stem cell-based treatments for disease. Researchers working with human embryonic stem cells are currently restricted from using federally funded equipment or facilities in any work with stem cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001. In federally funded buildings, researchers wanting to work with newer lines must purchase duplicate equipment with nonfederal funds, a costly and space-consuming endeavor.

In submitting grant applications, all schools committed matching funds to supplement the CIRM grants, guaranteeing that the buildings would be built entirely without federal funds. Stanford committed to raising $150 million toward the $200-million SIM1 building, much of which will come from private donations. After the CIRM money is disbursed this summer, schools have two years to build and occupy the facility.

SIM1 will have a number of environmental and scientific innovations, according to project manager Chris Shay. It also boasts a flexible plan designed to house, in full or part, approximately 12 current faculty and a similar number of new recruits. In addition to space designated for full-time faculty, the building contains about 60 benches reserved for collaborating scientists from Stanford or neighboring institutions.

These hotel benches will promote interdisciplinary interactions by embedding visiting scholars alongside other researchers, with mentoring by two faculty members—a basic scientist and a clinical researcher. "At these benches, you might see an engineer collaborating with a stem cell scientist on an innovative technology," Shay said.

The building will also house a novel microfluidics facility, drawing on the research of Stephen Quake, PhD, professor of bioengineering. Stem cells represent only a small fraction of all cells in the body and are hard to isolate in great quantities. The microfluidics technology allows researchers to process and analyze a few hundred cells, rather than the millions that are typically needed for cellular and tissue analyses.

Renee Reijo Pera, PhD, director of Stanford's human embryonic stem cell research, said having the core facilities— such as microfluidics, imaging and animal facilities—in the same building along with researchers studying a range of stem cell types will significantly speed up stem cell research at Stanford. "We'll be able to compare and contrast the different cell types using the same tools," she said. Researchers will also find it easier to communicate with each other about their work, fostering collaborations that could lead to new insights into stem cell biology.

SIM1 will also include innovative systems to lower energy consumption by up to 30 percent compared with a standard research building. "We are driving down energy use wherever we can, from mechanical systems usage to freezer management," Shay said.

The majority of energy used inside these types of science buildings is in the mechanical systems, such as heating or cooling, Shay said. Energy-efficient freezers and a new inventory system will ensure that no freezer space is wasted. Other energy-saving concepts include airflow controls in each room and lighting that automatically adjusts to changing needs over the course of the day.

Weissman said the core facilities result from innovations in fields throughout the university including engineering, bioengineering, medicine, biology and law. "SIM1 allows us to bring together entirely novel core facilities that enable us to discover normal and cancer stem cells, to provide the most recent advances in embryonic and pluripotent stem cell research and to test the behaviors of various types of human stem cells in immunodeficient animal models," he said. Much of the research will take place in collaboration with researchers at the Stanford Cancer Center.

The facilities grants mark CIRM's sixth round of funding, with previous grants going to postdoctoral researchers, scientists just starting novel stem cell projects, established stem cell researchers, new faculty and shared research spaces. All told, Stanford has received approximately $84 million, more than any other single institution.