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Miracles in the Making


By Mary Daily

Published Jan 1, 2011 8:00 AM

UCLA's stem cell research program hit the ground running in 2005 with the launch of what was originally called the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine.

A collaboration between the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the Jonsson Cancer Center, the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the UCLA College of Letters and Science, the new institute was backed with a $20-million commitment from the university over five years. The money would fund the pursuit of federal and state grants, including resources created by the passage of Proposition 71 as well as private funding, recruitment of a dozen new faculty positions, salaries, expansion of highly sophisticated laboratory space, infrastructure and advanced technologies.

To lead the new entity, the university named Dr. Owen Witte, UCLA professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a renowned scientist — whose laboratory research laid the groundwork for development of the targeted leukemia therapy Gleevec — as founding director.


Image provided by the Broad Stem Cell Research Center.

Witte wasted no time, quickly building a community of scholars, scientists and researchers in fields as diverse as engineering and molecular biology, who collaborate to attack problems none of them could solve alone.

Then, in 2007, a scientist's dream came true: Los Angeles philanthropists Edythe and Eli Broad donated another $20 million to the center, not for bricks and mortar but for research, and the institute was renamed the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research. The gift "has given us a tremendous amount of flexible resource to try out ideas without wading through the torturous cycle of research grants," Witte says.

In its short but fast-paced life, the Broad Stem Cell Research Center has become a major player in advancing stem cell science. UCLA has received grants to study HIV, neural repair, immune response, melanoma, blood development, cancer, stroke, sickle cell disease and age-related macular degeneration, among others.

Today, the center is the state's second-highest recipient of California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) research grants in the field. Most recently, in October and November, California's state stem cell agency awarded $12 million to five Broad Center researchers to explore new and more effective therapies to regenerate bone, target deadly brain cancers, treat patients with spinal cord injury, and treat corneal disorders that result in blindness. The center also leads the state in funding for training predoctoral, postdoctoral and clinical fellows in stem cell science.