University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

UCSF Stem Cell Studies to Focus on Muscular Dystrophy, Heart Disease, Cancer

By Jennifer O'Brien, UCSF News Office | May 7, 2011

Three UCSF scientists have received grants from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to advance their investigations of treatment strategies for degenerative muscle diseases, such as muscular dystrophy, and heart disease, and to determine why human embryonic stem cells are susceptible to forming tumors.

The grants, totaling nearly $4.2 million, were awarded to Harold Bernstein, MD, PhD, UCSF professor of pediatrics and a member of the UCSF Cardiovascular Research Institute; John Murnane, PhD, a professor of radiation oncology and a member of the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center; and Deepak Srivastava, MD, professor of pediatrics and biochemistry and biophysics and director of the UCSF-affiliated Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease.

The grants are among 27 Basic Biology III Awards worth $37.7 million awarded on May 4 by the CIRM governing board for studies in stem cell biology and disease origins.

The grants were awarded against the backdrop of CIRM's decision to help fund the first Food and Drug Administration-approved clinical trial based on cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. The grant, to Geron Corp of Menlo Park, will support the biopharmaceutical company's on-going early phase trial for people with spinal cord injury.

A review of the grants to UCSF faculty follows:

John Murnane, PhD ($1,074,355 grant) -- Murnane will investigate whether the loss of telomeres -- the DNA caps at the ends of chromosomes - in human embryonic stem cells grown in cell culture makes the cells particularly susceptible to out-of-control replicating to form tumors. If the loss of telomeres is a factor, scientists could develop steps to avoid this effect during human embryonic stem cell therapy.

Normal cells become cancerous when their DNA undergoes changes that cause the cell to replicate uncontrollably. Because multiple changes must occur to cause this unchecked growth, the likelihood of cancer is low. However, some cellular changes - including telomere loss - can increase the rate at which subsequent changes occur.

"Understanding how culture conditions can influence genetic changes in human embryonic stem cells will allow scientists to avoid these changes and limit the likelihood of complications resulting from hESC therapy," said Murnane.

CIRM grant: Genomic instability during culturing of human embryonic stem cells

Read more at Jennifer O'Brien, UCSF News Office