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UC Irvine engineer awarded $2.1 million for stem cell research
Grant brings total CIRM funding for UCI to $19.6 million
Irvine, Calif., December 12, 2007
A UC Irvine engineer today was awarded $2.1 million from the state to support a study on the effect of embryonic stem cells on heart disease.
Andrew Putnam of UCI is one of 22 scientists statewide to receive a New Faculty Award from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state agency tasked with distributing funds for stem cell research. In all on Wednesday, the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee, which governs CIRM, awarded more than $54 million in New Faculty Awards, which support promising young scientists embarking on stem cell research.
“This grant is a wonderful opportunity for me to explore embryonic stem cells in the context of our ongoing efforts to engineer functional tissues – an avenue I would have been unable to pursue without these funds,” said Putnam, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, chemical engineering and materials science. “In a time of increased competition for federal funding and fewer funding mechanisms for young investigators, this CIRM award is particularly valuable to me and my research group.”
Putnam will investigate how embryonic stem cells can become cells that make up capillary blood vessels, which supply blood to tissue damaged by cardiovascular problems such as a heart attack. Adult stem cells have been shown to help stimulate new capillary growth, but scientists do not yet know the potential of embryonic stem cells.
Through this research, Putnam hopes to identify factors and conditions that promote blood vessel formation. His work also could result in a method to determine what may happen in the body when two or more therapies are combined.
“Not only will these studies improve our fundamental understanding of the cues that dictate stem cell fates, they also may lead to a stem cell-based therapy for any disease characterized by poor blood flow,” Putnam said.
Cardiovascular diseases account for an estimated $330 billion in healthcare costs each year nationwide. Nearly 62 million Americans have a cardiovascular disease, which this year alone will result in more than 1.5 million deaths.
In all, UCI and its stem cell research scientists have been awarded $19.6 million in CIRM funding. Earlier this year, UCI received $3.9 million to upgrade its core embryonic stem cell research laboratory and expand a program to train young scientists on research techniques involving human embryonic stem cells. Seven UCI scientists new to human embryonic stem cells were awarded research grants totaling $4 million, and three scientists with experience in the field were awarded grants totaling $7.4 million. In April 2006, UCI was awarded about $2 million to educate new stem cell researchers. UCI ranks fifth for total CIRM funding among 22 institutions statewide.
UCI began its stem cell research program in the 1970s and moved into human stem cell research in 2000. Today, more than 60 UCI scientists use stem cells in current or planned studies. Now a hub for stem cell research in Southern California, UCI is raising money for a new building that would house its stem cell researchers, the core laboratory, training facilities and research space. UCI is applying for a CIRM facilities grant to build the structure.
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Larger image of Putnam