UCLA stem cell researchers receive awards from state stem cell agency

Dec 12, 2012 Awards & Funding

Two cardiology investigators from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, Drs. Reza Ardehali and Ali Nsair, received grants today totaling over $6 million from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state stem cell agency. The young physician scientists will use their clinical and scientific training to conduct leading-edge research on the developmental and molecular biology of stem cells to advance regenerative medicine for heart disease.

The studies supported by these awards will help form the foundation for translational and clinical advances, enabling realization of the potential of human stem cells for therapies and as tools for biomedical innovation.

The New Faculty Physician Scientist Translational Research Awards for clinician scientists in the first six years of their first independent faculty appointments were announced Wednesday Dec. 12, 2012, during the regular meeting of the CIRM Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee at the Luxe Hotel in Los Angeles.

Ardehali, assistant professor of cardiology and a member of the stem cell research center, was awarded over $2.9 million for research to isolate heart stem cells derived from human embryonic stem cells (cells that can become any cell in the body), and determine whether the new heart cells are capable of integrating into the heart environment or they will function in isolation at their own pace. Dr. Ardehali uses an analogy, “The performance of a symphony can go into chaos if one member plays in isolation from all surrounding cues. Therefore, it is important to determine if the transplanted cells can beat in harmony with the rest of the heart and if these cells will provide functional benefit to the injured heart.” To accomplish the research goals, he will transplant the heart stem cells into an animal model's injured heart to determine if the cells improve heart function. Ardehali also will perform detailed analysis of the electrical activities of the heart to determine how well the stem cells grow and integrate into new heart tissue. The success of this proposed project may lead to future clinical trials of stem cell therapy for heart disease.

Nsair, assistant professor of medicine, cardiology, and a member of the stem cell research center, was awarded over $3 million for research using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), which are tissue-specific blood or skin cells that have been reprogrammed to become like human embryonic stem cells (become any cell in the body) to develop heart tissue cells (called cardiac progenitor cells or CPCs). Once the CPCs are grown in the laboratory, they will be used to regenerate heart muscle damaged by heart attack (myocardial infarction).