Stem cell center moving ahead


Plans to build a center that would bring together the area’s top stem cell researchers in one facility on land across from UCSD are entering another phase with the release of a draft report on the project.

Proponents say a new state-of-the-art facility is needed to bring the best scientific minds on Torrey Pines Mesa together and create an environment in which they can thrive.

“We’ve probably got 50 to 100 labs in this area,” said Larry Goldstein, director of UCSD’s stem cell program, “and there are a number of really exciting science projects using stem cells to get at the roots of cancer, brain disease and diabetes, trying to get a better understanding of the diseases and develop novel treatments.”

Proposed is a 135,000-square-foot building with five above- and below-ground research levels, including 418 surface parking spaces, on 7.5 acres of university land at the northwest corner of North Torrey Pines Road and Torrey Pines Scenic Drive. The building would create labs, office and support space serving as a hub for cutting-edge multidisciplinary stem cell research.

Impacts noted

The recently released environmental impact report is available for the public’s review through Oct. 9.

It notes that the center would impact ocean views, increase traffic and parking demand, impact sensitive species and habitats and possibly uncover Native American archaeological remains and artifacts. But the report contends these impacts can all be mitigated.

The proposed stem cell research facility would serve the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine (SDCRM), a nonprofit group comprised of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, The Scripps Research Institute and UCSD.

SDCRM is affiliated with the California Institute For Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) created in 2005 with statewide passage of Prop. 71. Since then, the institute has approved 229 stem cell research and facility grants totaling $614 million.

Unlocking secrets

Stem cells are unspecialized and can be induced to become cells with special functions such as the beating cells of the heart or insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. By unlocking their secrets, scientists may be able to screen new drugs and find cures for a whole range of maladies from Alzheimer’s and diabetes to Parkinson’s and spinal cord injuries.

Louis Coffman, vice president of the San Diego consortium, said stem cell work requires multidisciplinary collaboration among scientists.

“In order for collaboration to happen you need opportunity,” said Coffman, “and opportunity is provided by proximity. Scientific research can be much more fruitful if it’s done in the same building.”

Coffman added the projected cost of the planned SDCRM facility is $142 million and estimates are construction could begin on it by January 2009 and be completed near the end of 2010.

Satisfying needs

The new stem cell research building would be designed to be practical, flexible and innovative.

Said Coffman: “It has to satisfy the program requirements and spatial needs of scientists. It has to accommodate change as it happens. It has to facilitate collaboration and be energy-efficient and sustainable.”

The draft EIR for the proposed stem cell research center is part of UCSD’s Long Range Development Plan which specifies expansion of the university’s academic, administrative and support programs through 2020-21.

Besides stem cell research, the draft report notes other goals of the proposed center would be to recruit and train the next generation of scientists, as well as develop communications and outreach to educate the public about the scientific benefits of stem cells.

Behind the numbers

Five UCSD researchers and physicians have received $11.5 million in New Faculty grants in the latest round of funding from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM.)

These come on top of earlier awards distributed to UCSD, The Salk Institute, The Scripps Research Institute, the Burnham Institute, and San Diego State, which through August total more than $61.7 million.

In addition, the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine (SDCRM) – comprised of UCSD, the Salk, TSRI and Burnham - received a $43 million facilities grant from CIRM earlier this year to help build a joint stem cell research facility.

The awardees:

  • Catriona Jamieson, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine and Director for Stem Cell Research at Moores UCSD Cancer Center ($3.1 million).
  • Mana Parast, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in UC San Diego School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology ($3.1 million).
  • Benjamin Yu, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Dermatology in the UCSD School of Medicine ($3.1 million).
  • Shyni Varghese, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering in the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering ($2.3 million).
  • Bing Ren, Ph.D., associate member of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and associate professor in the UCSD Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine ($1.7 million).

What’s Next?