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Seeds planted for cell studies

UCI breaks ground on $67-million facility for research and education on the quickly growing field of stem cells.

October 24, 2008|By Michael Alexander

Bypassing federal restrictions, stem cell research is coming to campus at UCI.

University officials and scientists cheered Friday morning as officials and top donors broke ground on the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, a nearly $67-million building that will give four stories and more than 100,000 square feet to researching the fast-growing field.

The new building will include not only the core stem cell laboratory and equipment, but also clinical space for work with patients, as well as a course on stem cell techniques and a master’s degree program in biotechnology with an emphasis in stem cell research.

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Local billionaire investor Bill Gross and wife Sue Gross gave $10 million in 2006 to fund stem cell research at the university, and both spoke at the event to praise scientists.

“We’ll do the best from our end, and you do the best from yours,” Bill Gross told the audience.

It’s not just the larger and better facilities that will boost stem cell research, said UCI stem cell center co-director Peter Donovan. Most of all, the new center will let UCI sidestep federal restrictions on stem cell research and put the whole program in the same place.

While human embryos are one of a few sources of stem cells, officials and scientists said they were necessary to study because the field is young and each type of stem cell is different. Knowledge from studying one kind of stem cell will help scientists learn about the others, according to documents from the center.

Some, including the Bush Administration, object on moral grounds to the destruction of donated human embryos to create stem cells.

Because only a very small number of embryonic stem cells are allowed by the federal government, universities can’t do research on more recently created “lines” of cells in any building that took a single federal cent.

“You couldn’t even use a pencil bought with federal funds,” Donovan said.

University Chancellor Michael Drake praised the center, saying it was “tremendous to be able to do this work on campus alongside our other science, where it has always belonged.”

Some of the diseases being studied by UCI stem cell researchers include: Huntington’s Disease, vision and hearing loss, spinal cord injury, cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, lupus and arthritis. Scientists also say that stem cells might help them better understand brain disorders like autism and Alzheimer’s disease.

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