$40 million for new awards to target cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease Huntington’s disease and more

Retinal cells like these could lead to new therapies for blindness, one of the diseases targeted by our new Early Translation Awards

Yesterday our Governing Board approved funding for 13 new Early Translation Awards worth more than $40 million.

These awards fund a stage of research that comes after a scientist comes across a good idea for a new therapy (a cell type that could replace tissue damaged in a disease,  for example, or a drug found through testing on stem cells) and before the scientist has good evidence that the idea will work. As our president Alan Trounson said in our press release:

“The strategies are focused on problems where we think there is a very reasonable chance that they will evolve into clinical studies for treating some of the worst diseases we have in the community.”

This is our fourth round of funding for the Early Translation Awards. You can see the complete list of recipients on our website. The awards in this round focus on prostate cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, bone fracture, blindness, Huntington’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), autism, stroke, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, sickle cell disease and metabolic disorders–all disabling diseases without adequate cures.

These newly funded awards are part of what we call our funding portfolio–those awards that are funding projects on their way to the clinic for a particular disease, or are starting clinical trials. You can see a complete list of those awards, along with the disease focus, on our website.

Many scientists who receive our Early Translation Awards first got their idea for a therapy while carrying out research with one of our other awards. In fact, eight of the scientists in this round of funding had previous CIRM funding for an earlier stage of research. If a scientist’s Early Translation award provides good results, the scientists are then able to apply for one of our Disease Team awards, which fund the effort of compiling data to convince the Food and Drug Administration to allow them to test it in people.  Other organizations fund only early discovery research, or only preclinical research. Under those conditions, researchers continually pause their projects to look for new sources of funding as the project moves through the phases toward clinical trial.

We have information on our website about the very long process of testing a good idea (the Early Translation awards), building a team to compile data prior to clinical trials (Disease Team), and then running clinical trials (Disease Team and Strategic Partnership Awards).

Congratulations and good luck to those new award recipients.

Amy Adams

Through their lens: Brian Woo learned the importance of organizing his experiments

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Brian Woo did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Jill Helms at Stanford University.

Woo submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

Hi! My name is Brian Woo, and this summer I attended Stanford’s Institutes for Medicine Research program, an eight-week internship program. My lab focused on liposomal-Wnt3a (L-Wnt3a), which has been shown to be a greatly effective therapeutic drug due to its ability to stimulate adult stem cell proliferation and renewal.

Many of the people in my lab studied Wnt3a’s therapeutic potential; however, the project I worked on this summer focused specifically on studying Wnt3a at a molecular level: specifically, I studied how Wnt3a interacted with its two receptors, Frizzled (Fz) and LRP, and how those interactions allowed L-Wnt3a to activate the Wnt signaling pathway

I definitely enjoyed working in a lab environment. One of the aspects that I enjoyed the most about working in a lab was the aura of camaraderie which was extremely helpful especially to me, because I had no idea how to even use a pipette before entering the lab! Everyone in the lab always had a smile on their face, and everyone was extremely willing to answer any questions you might have had and such. For me, I can’t imagine myself working alone, or in an environment where people aren’t friendly; I think that teamwork and collaboration are absolutely essential in order to accomplish just about anything. In terms of challenges… well, let me just start off by saying that I had my (very) fair share of mistakes during the course of my lab internship! I definitely learned the importance of precise measurements and clear thinking: organization is absolutely critical in preventing errors- I remember a time during my internship where I was working with thirty western blot samples, and due to bad organization, I accidentally added the contents of one sample to another, which was not good, to say the least. I learned how to design and execute my own experiments, and the biggest challenge here was definitely the clairvoyant thinking required beforehand in order to execute aforementioned experiments correctly and with as minimal error as possible.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed my experience at Stanford and I hope to continue my work during the school year.

Brian Woo

Brian submitted this video about his experience:

Through their lens: Mark Sun studies muscle biology and aging

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Brian Woo did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Jill Helms at Stanford University.

As a fresh high school graduate switching from the east coast to the west, I was incredibly nervous at first about this internship. I was moving away from New Jersey, away from my home, away from my friends. I was moving away from all realms of security and comfort. I had never worked in a lab previously, and had no idea of what to expect. Thus, being given the opportunity to work with and shadow researchers at the Conboy lab at UC Berkeley, I was hesitantly unsure about the prospects of learning firsthand what it was like to work in a lab.

Little did I know that this internship would be one of the most enjoyable and intellectually enriching experiences of my life. Working under the mentorship of Michael Conboy, Christian Elabd, and Wendy Cousin, I learned more than I could have ever expected to learn. I learned everything from the pathways involved in muscle regeneration to various lab techniques such as cell culturing, Western blotting, and PCR amplification of DNA.

When I would try to explain some of the processes to my family, who have had no experience with biology, they were amazed and confused with the complexity of some of the stuff that I was doing. Furthermore, seeing the application of biology directly was very intriguing and exciting. Being allowed to carry out lab techniques on my own was incredibly enjoying, as I was being given the opportunity to fail and then learn from my failures with friendly and helpful mentors correcting my errors. I also enjoyed being able to make new friends, having just moved from the other side of the United States, with other interns and the mentors. Some of the most challenging aspects I encountered are the fragility of some of the experiments, for some could be ruined with a simple and careless touch. In the end, however, this internship taught me much, and has opened up my mind to a possibility in a career in research.

Mark Sun

You can read more about the work of the Conboy lab here.