Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Scientists win $6.8M in stimulus-fund grants for stem cell research

University of Michigan researchers have been awarded 13 federal stimulus-fund grants, totaling $6.8 million, for research projects involving both adult and embryonic stem cells.

The research funds were included in the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package approved in February, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The stem-cell research grants are among more than 260 stimulus awards U-M scientists have received so far from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In addition to using adult and embryonic stem cells, some of the U-M researchers will use induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. These versatile cells are adult cells that have been reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells.

Sean Morrison, director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology, was awarded a $744,000 stimulus grant from NIH to examine the potential of using human embryonic stem cells to develop a treatment for Hirschsprung disease, a birth defect in which the nervous system that regulates intestinal function does not develop properly.

“The fact that we were among a small number of groups to get Recovery Act funds for human embryonic stem cell research demonstrates that the University of Michigan can compete with any institution in the area of embryonic stem cell research, once we’re given the opportunity to do so,” Morrison says.

Last November, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that relaxed restrictions on embryonic stem cell research in the state. Although Morrison’s Hirschsprung study would have been permitted prior to the passage of Proposal 2, the highly restrictive state laws had discouraged many stem cell researchers from pursuing embryonic stem cell research in the state, Morrison says.

“Proposal 2 is going to allow us to hire more people who work in the area of embryonic stem cells, and this NIH grant illustrates that the federal government will provide funding to fuel that expansion,” Morrison says.

Other U-M researchers awarded NIH Recovery Act grants for stem cell projects include:

• Sally Camper, chair of the human genetics department and a professor internal medicine at the Medical School, was awarded a two-year grant of $974,463 for a study of the genes that regulate cell growth and differentiation in the pituitary gland.

• Dr. Mario Delmar was awarded $500,000 to examine cardiac stem cells involved in the formation of scars in the heart. Delmar is the Frank Norman Wilson Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and a professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the Medical School.

• Douglas Engel, chair and professor of cell and developmental biology at the Medical School, was awarded $985,672 for a two-year study that involves reprogramming gene regulation in human blood-forming stem cells in an effort to find new treatments for sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.

• Donna Martin, associate professor of human genetics and associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical School, was awarded $264,156 for a study that will use cultured mouse inner ear and neural stem cells to understand the mechanisms behind hearing and balance disorders in CHARGE syndrome patients.

• Miriam Meisler, professor of human genetics at the Medical School, was awarded $489,818 to use induced pluripotent stem cells from patient skin biopsies to examine the abnormal activity of nerve cells in an inherited form of epilepsy known as severe myoclonic epilepsy of infancy, or Dravet syndrome, in which infants suffer repeated damaging seizures. Meisler’s team includes U-M neurologist Dr. Jack Parent and Lori Isom, a professor of pharmacology.

• Yi Sun, a professor of radiation oncology and director of the Division of Radiation and Cancer Biology at the Medical School, was awarded $596,014 for a two-year study that will use mouse embryonic stem cells and human cancer cells to help define the role the SAG gene plays in forming blood vessels that fuel tumor growth.

• Dentistry Professor Russell Taichman was awarded $971,456 for a two-year study that will use reprogrammed adult stem cells to heal and restore face and skull tissues following disease or trauma. Taichman’s team includes Paul Krebsbach and David Kohn, professors of biologic and materials sciences at the School of Dentistry and professors of biomedical engineering at the College of Engineering.

• Dr. Max Wicha, a professor of oncology and director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center, was awarded $300,000 to work with scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York to help determine mechanisms involved in the differentiation of breast stem cells that may account for the protective effects of early full-term pregnancy against breast cancer.

• Wicha and Dr. David Smith, professor of internal medicine and medical director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center clinical trials office, were awarded $71,000 to conduct a Phase 1 clinical trial of two inhibitors of cancer stem cells, a joint project with the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

• Liang Xu, assistant professor of radiation oncology at the Medical School, was awarded $614,396 to explore a nanoparticle-based system for targeted delivery of miRNA-based therapeutics to human pancreatic cancer stem cells.

In addition to the Recovery Act awards listed above, Yukiko Yamashita, a research assistant professor at the Life Sciences Institute, was awarded $259,984 for a study of the physiological regulation and function of asymmetric stem cell division using germ-line stem cells from fruit flies.

And Steven E. Clark, associate professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, was awarded $49,814 to study how cellular signaling affects stem-cell fate in the Arabidopsis plant.