Campus Nets Big Stem Cell Grant

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has approved $17.5 million in funding for training in stem cell research at universities and research institutions across the state, with an anticipated $1.6 million slated for Humboldt State University.

Professor Jacob Varkey, who teaches genetics and biotechnology with HSU’s Biological Sciences department, says stem cell biology will be a major facet of modern science in coming years.

“Stem cell biology is a basic science—to really understand what development is and how cells divide and differentiate into different cell types. This grant is a beginning for what we see as a longterm objective of HSU,” says Varkey.

The funding will help establish a new certificate program, currently in the approval process, in addition to internships, training for local medical professionals and outreach for the community.

The certificate program will train students in embryonic stem cell biology techniques and training at either Stanford University Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research of the University of California, San Francisco Insitute for Regenerative Medicine.

“The students will be trained in all facets of stem cells, so they will be prepared to walk into industry or a research facility and be able to undertake research in the field,” said Varkey.

“Part of the impetus for this training program is that we’re at a point where stem cell science is translating into actual therapies. All Californians are soon going to have to deal with health choices, either for themselves or their family members, which include stem cell sciences,” said Professor Amy Sprowles, of the Department of Biological Sciences.

“Getting the local professionals up to speed means they’ll be better able to educate their patients and make sure they’re aware of the most up-to-date medical care. So that will benefit all our community members,” added Sprowles.

HSU President Rollin Richmond, who co-authored a white paper on California State University’s role in preparing a workforce to staff the burgeoning stem cell industry, says educating students about this new industry is essential.

“It’s very important for students, even if they’re not interested in the field, to know something about stem cell research so they understand the arguments. And for science majors, whether it’s the research, working in the laboratory, or working for a company doing full-scale production, they’ll need a background in stem cell research. For Humboldt State to not offer that to our students would be a big mistake,” said Richmond.

The CIRM was established in 2005 with the passage of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act. To date, the CIRM governing board has approved 253 research and facility grants totaling more than $635 million, making CIRM the world’s largest source of funding for human embryonic stem cell research.

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