Monday, April 01, 2019

The Quest for Stem Cell 'Franchise Players:' California's $47 Million Recruitment Program


 Robert Weschler-Reya briefly discusses some of the implications of his research.

Nine years ago this month, the California stem cell agency kicked off a $47 million recruiting effort to lure star stem cell scientists to the Golden State in what was then an even more fledgling field than it is today.

The first recipient was Robert Weschler-Reya, who left Duke University to join the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, Ca. Weschler-Reya surfaced again last week in an item on the stem cell agency's blog, The Stem Cellar, which discussed the research that he hopes will help children with a deadly brain cancer.

Back in April 2010, directors of the state's $3 billion stem cell agency awarded nearly $6 million to Weschler-Reya. But it took him months to make the decision to come to California. (For more on the process see here and here.)

Ultimately, the agency helped to bring eight other scientists to California through the recruitment effort. All of the awards in the program benefited institutions with past or present representation on the agency's governing board. Those directors could not vote on specific grants to their institutions, but they all voted in favor of creating the recruitment effort.

The overall approach was approved in 2009 by directors of the agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Backers said it would lure "paradigm-shifting," "franchise players" to the state.

CIRM Director William Brody, then head of the Salk Institute in La Jolla but also a former president of John Hopkins University in Maryland, said that when California voters created the stem cell agency in 2004,
"I was sitting in Baltimore (and) the big concern was that there would be this big sucking sound for the senior people. And that, by and large, I don't think has happened because there's not been an appropriate mechanism to bring them, and I think this would do that."
As for Weschler-Reya, CIRM quoted him on its blog last week as saying that his research has developed "a valuable tool that will increase our understanding of the biology of the cancer and allow us to identify and test novel approaches to therapy. This advance brings us one step closer to a future where every child survives—and thrives—after diagnosis with CPC (choroid plexus carcinoma).

In his year-seven report on his CIRM research, Weschler-Reya said,
"The goal of our studies has been to elucidate the role of stem cells in development, regeneration and tumorigenesis in the cerebellum. We have made significant progress towards this goal during the course of our work.
"Our studies have provided insight into the types of cells derived from cerebellar stem cells during development, and shown that cerebellar stem cells can serve as cells of origin for pediatric brain tumors. Moreover, we developed several new stem cell-based animal models of pediatric brain tumors, and used them to study mechanisms driving tumorigenesis and metastasis. Importantly, we also used these models to screen for compounds that might be effective inhibitors of tumor growth, and identified a number of promising candidates. 
"Our long-term goal is to move these agents toward clinical trials, to improve outcomes for pediatric brain tumor patients."
Here is a list of all the recipients in CIRM's recruitment program. 

InstitutionResearcher nameGrant TitleAward Value
University of California, BerkeleyXavier DarzacqSingle Molecule Biophysics and Biology of Cellular Identity$4,247,155
Gladstone Institutes, J. DavidTodd McDevittEngineering microscale tissue constructs from human pluripotent stem cells$5,884,058
University of California, Los AngelesJohn ChuteNiche-Focused Research: Discovery & Development of Hematopoietic Regenerative Factors$5,174,715
Cedars-Sinai Medical CenterBarry StrippEpithelial progenitors and the stromal niche as therapeutic targets in lung disease$4,841,830
Stanford UniversityHiromitsu NakauchiGeneration of functional cells and organs from iPSCs$5,427,512
University of California, San DiegoEric AhrensMolecular Imaging for Stem Cell Science and Clinical Application$5,920,899
University of Southern CaliforniaAndrew McMahonRepair and regeneration of the nephron$5,672,206
University of California, Santa BarbaraPeter CoffeyDevelopment of Cellular Therapies for Retinal Disease$4,690,963
Sanford-Burnham Medical Research InstituteRobert Wechsler-ReyaThe role of neural stem cells in cerebellar development, regeneration and tumorigenesis$5,226,049
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