Art event merges serious science, passion and whimsy at UC Irvine @uci

When the University of California, Irvine put the construction of its stem cell building out to bid the recession had hit. The bids were low enough they had funds to add an extra floor. This added a bonus for the taxpayers of California who had funded $27 million toward the building through CIRM. The stem cell institute there did not have the funds or the need to build out that added floor at the time the building opened. But the program grew so quickly and their fundraising has gone well so the build-out has begun, providing space for additional stem cell labs working toward new disease therapies.

To commemorate the event, the stem cell center organized an art reception in the shell space that sits on the fourth floor of the Sue and Bill Gross Hall, named for the lead donor for the building. They lined up 24 stem cell images around the periphery of the space that will soon be three new stem cell labs. Each lab in the three floors below had contributed entries.

The most enjoyable part of the night was unexpected. Yes most the images were beautiful, but the groups had spent time writing captions that varied from describing the passion they found in their work to pure whimsy. My favorite turned on a bit of family narrative for the leader of the research team. Brian Cummings’ team works with neural cells derived from an embryonic stem cell line that was created in Sheffield England and go by the name Shef-3. Brian told me his dad grew up in Sheffield, so their image is titled Roadmap to Sheffield.

A key thing about the cells Brian is using is they are not grown on the layer of animal cells that support most traditional embryonic stem cell lines. And some have been created under what is known as Good Manufacturing Practices. These two features mean that if his cell do appear to repair traumatic brain injury in the lab, he could more readily get permission from the Food and Drug Administration to begin clinical trials in people.

All the images can be purchased by contacting Janice Briggs at

Brian Cummings with “NeuroNebulous” on the left and “Roadmap to Sheffield” on the right
From the Jonathan Lakey’s lab “Ruby Isle”, showing an islet cell inside a protective encapsulation. (Visually simple, but I had to included this for my friends with diabetes. This type of encapsulation to protect new insulin producing cells from immune system attack is likely to be key to stem cell therapies for the disease.)
From Mathew Burton-Jones lab “Christmas in the Brain,” with the caption: A blizzard of star-shaped astrocytes (green) dash through the brain to surround jolly and plump beta-amyloid plaques (red) in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s
From Aileeen Anderson’s lab “Lighting Strikes” showing nerve cells growing from stem cells
From Maksim Plikus’ lab, a “Koi Pond” that is actually hair follicles developing from stem cells


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