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Latest Stem-Cell Research Focus of Town Hall Meeting at UCSB

Scientists will gather in Santa Barbara on Friday for a panel discussion and question-and-answer session.

Top scientists will present the current state of research on stem cells at a UCSB-sponsored town hall meeting from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday in the Hatlen Theater.

The goal of the meeting, which is free and open to the public, is to raise public awareness about stem cell research in the Santa Barbara community.

“Recent Advances in Stem Cell Research: Science and Medical Therapies on the Horizon” will feature Dennis Clegg, a professor and co-director of the UCSB Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering; James Thomson, a professor and an international pioneer in stem cell research; Robert Klein, chairman of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine; and Dr. Lois Jovanovic, chief executive officer and chief scientific officer of Sansum Diabetes Research Institute in Santa Barbara.

The meeting will conclude with a panel discussion, followed by a question-and-answer session.

“Even though we can now reprogram adult skin cells into multipurpose stem cells, it is far too early to abandon the use of human embryonic stem cell lines,” Clegg said. “Federal funding remains a critical need if we are to advance the work being done to alleviate the suffering of individuals with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, age-related macular degeneration and diabetes.”

Clegg, chairman of UCSB’s Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, studies neural development and regeneration, with an emphasis in stem cell research. He is a member of the UCSB Neuroscience Research Institute and is director of the UCSB training program in stem cell biology.

In early May, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, established with $3 billion by voters in 2004, granted UCSB $3.2 million to build a state-of-the-art stem cell research facility. UCSB also received a training grant of $1.3 million in 2005 from CIRM to support graduate and postdoctoral fellows engaged in a variety of stem cell projects.

“The citizens of California should be proud of their support for human embryonic stem cell research, but the uneven funding and regulatory landscape between states means that many talented scientists have been effectively excluded from this research,” Thomson said. “The degenerative diseases which may be impacted by stem cell research are of comparable importance to cancer, yet there is no national equivalent to the war on cancer for regenerative medicine. The war on cancer was strongly associated with the Oval Office, and I am optimistic that leadership in this area from Washington will improve after the coming election.”

Thomson, who holds faculty appointments at UCSB and at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is often called the “father of stem cell research” because he pioneered work in the isolation and culture of nonhuman primate and human embryonic stem cells.

Thomson’s most recent work shows that human skin cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent stem cells with all of the properties of embryonic stem cells. These “induced pluripotent stem” cells (iPS cells) have major implications for regenerative medicine, since it should now be possible to generate patient-specific, immunologically-matched stem cells without using embryos.

However, there are major challenges to address before iPS cells, or any stem cell, can be used for therapy. Scientists’ understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underlie stem cell potency, self-renewal, and differentiation is still incomplete. In addition, new, interdisciplinary bioengineering strategies for stem cell production, characterization, growth, purification and delivery are needed.

Jovanovic, an adjunct professor at UCSB and chairwoman of the UCSB Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee, is working on “closing the loop” with insulin algorithms that incorporate the continuous glucose monitoring of an intravascular glucose sensor to regulate the insulin infusion of an implanted, continuous insulin pump. This technology eventually will serve as an artificial beta-cell and thus ease the lives of people with type 1, insulin-dependent diabetes, Jovanovic said.

“Despite President Bush’s statement in his State of the Union address that we no longer need embryonic stem cell research, the fact is there is no evidence yet that adult cells converted to primitive cells can then be coaxed to become other types of cells, such as nerve, heart, bone marrow or pancreas,” Jovanovic said. “Fortunately, the state still supports embryonic stem cell research. At UCSB, we are strongly committed to continued studies of human embryonic stem cells. We want the Santa Barbara community to know we are still in business.”

The town hall meeting is sponsored with the UCSB Office of Research, College of Engineering, the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering and the Neuroscience Research Institute. The program is being organized by the UCSB Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee.

Free parking will be available in lot 22. See the attendant for a permit.

For more information, contact Leslie Edwards at 805.893.3944 or [email protected], or visit www.stemcell.ucsb.edu/townhall.

George Foulsham is news director of the UCSB Office of Public Affairs.

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