By Guest Writer: Peter Donovan – September 25, 2012
Director of Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at UC Irvine
Melissa Biliardi – EDITOR IN CHIEF – TheHuntingtonsPost.org
WORLD RENOWNED SCIENTISTS TO CELEBRATE AND SHINE
LIGHT ON STEM CELL BREAKTHROUGHS
Scientists and researchers have been working diligently to unlock the potential of stem cells.
Significant strides have been made in the less than 15 years since the discovery of a method
to grow and replicate human stem cells. Their efforts to develop cures for life-threatening and
debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, macular degeneration,
cancer, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, as well as traumatic brain injuries and
paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries are moving forward at a rapid pace. Findings to date
give hope to millions who suffer from these devastating conditions by offering revolutionary
treatments and potential cures.
The ongoing advances in the field of stem cell research will be acknowledged and celebrated
on October 3, 2012, during International Stem Cell Awareness Day. Special events will be
held for three days and a nationwide online outreach effort to share the potential of stem cell
research will be spearheaded by the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at the
University of California, Irvine.
“This is a critical and historic time for stem cell research,” said Peter Donovan, director, Sue &
Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, UC Irvine. “We’re literally on the brink of developing new
treatments for countless life-threatening illnesses and debilitating injuries, and raising
awareness about this research is one of the best things people can do to help accelerate the
There are several research programs taking place at the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research
Center at UC Irvine that continue to break down barriers and open doors to new treatments for
major diseases and injuries:
Spinal Cord and Traumatic Brain Injuries: Neurobiologist Hans Keirstead, Ph.D., as well
as husband and wife scientists Aileen Anderson, Ph.D, and Brian Cummings, Ph.D., are
conducting stem cell studies to develop treatments for the more than 1.3 million Americans
who suffer from spinal cord injuries. Their advancements have led to the world’s first clinical
trial of human neural stem cell-based therapy for chronic spinal cord injuries
(Anderson/Cummings) and the first FDA approved clinical trials using human embryonic stem
cells (Keirstead). Their research is significant because no drug or other forms of treatment
have been able to restore function for those suffering from paralysis. In addition, Cummings
and Anderson are applying their stem research to traumatic brain injury, a leading cause of
death and disability worldwide, especially in children and young adults.
Alzheimer’s disease: An estimated 35 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer’s
disease, five million of whom live in the U.S. Frank LaFerla, Ph.D., director of UC Irvine’s
Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders, and Matthew Blurton-Jones, Ph.
D. of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, UC Irvine, have shown potential
treatment in humans. Their work is expected to move to clinical trials within five years.
Huntington’s disease: Huntington’s disease is a degenerative and ultimately fatal brain
disorder that takes away a person’s ability to walk, talk and reason. It affects about 30,000
people in the U.S. with another 200,000 or more likely to inherit the disorder.
Leslie Thompson, Ph.D., of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, UC Irvine, has led
the research in this area for more than 20 years. Thompson’s team of researchers is currently
investigating new stem cell lines and techniques to support the area of the brain that is
susceptible to the disease with the hope of developing a cure for future generations. “Stem
cells have given us a new way to study the disease, allowing us to derive and examine human
neurons carrying the mutation. This is a big step forward,” said Thompson.
Macular Degeneration, Retinitis Pigmentosa and Inherited Blindness:
Henry Klassen, M.D., Ph.D. has focused his stem cell research on regenerating damaged
retinal tissue to restore sight to people suffering from retinitis pigmentosa (an inherited form of
degenerative eye disease) and macular degeneration which usually affects older people and
leads to loss of vision. Macular degeneration affects millions of Americans. His work hopes to
find cures and treatments for corneal and retinal eye disease. “Our methods have been
validated, and I’m optimistic that stem cell-based treatments can help restore fading vision for
those with eye diseases.”
New Website Helps Spread the Word Online
To commemorate International Stem Cell Awareness Day and encourage support of stem cell
research, an interactive website has been created. Advocates are asked to visit:
www.StemCellsOfferHope.com and share online a wide range of key facts, downloadable
images and links to other valuable resources within their social networks. It also features
links that enable visitors to easily post information and images with family and friends on
Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Supporters are also encouraged to help drive visitors to the
www.StemCellsOfferHope.com website through the use of blogs and social media networks.
International Stem Cell Awareness Day Events at UC Irvine
The Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at UC Irvine will celebrate International Stem
Cell Awareness Day by hosting three special events. An open house will take place on Oct. 1
for high school students and teachers with educational sessions taking place at 10 a.m.,
noon, 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. A UC Irvine student, faculty and staff open house will take place on
Oct. 2 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Finally, the research center will host an all-day science
symposium on Oct. 3 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. with a “Meet the Scientist” interactive forum taking
place from 5-5:45 p.m. The forum and symposium are open to all UC Irvine scientists,
clinicians, graduate students, post-docs and members of the community. To RSVP for any
these events or for more information, include the name of the event in the subject line and
About the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, UC Irvine: The Sue & Bill
Gross Stem Cell Research Center, UC Irvine is one of the largest most technologically
advanced stem cell research facilities in the world. The center was established in 2010 in part
through a $10 million gift from Bill Gross, founder and co-chief investment officer of
international investment firm PIMCO, and his wife Sue. For more than 40 years, its team of
scientists and multiple research and graduate assistants have worked to unlock the potential
of stem cells for treating and curing an estimated 70 major diseases and disorders. The
research center has devised new methods for growing stems cells that are 100 percent more
effective than previous techniques. Other advances have led to the world’s first clinical trial of
a human neural stem cell-based therapy for chronic spinal cord injury and the first FDA-
approved clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells. The embryonic stem cells are
produced from embryos donated for research purposes during fertility treatments. These cells
would otherwise be destroyed. For more information, visit stemcell.uci.edu.
About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked
university dedicated to research, scholarship, and community service. Led by Chancellor
Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of
California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty
and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic
impact of $4.2 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.
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