Thursday, August 25, 2011

Britain's Peter Coffey to Join UC Santa Barbara Stem Cell Team

STANFORD, Ca. – The seaside campus of UC Santa Barbara has scored a major coup in the world of stem cell science, successfully recruiting internationally reknown scientist Peter Coffey of the UK into its research program.
Peter Coffey
University College, London, photo

Coffey's decision to leave England emerged during a meeting here today of the governing board of the California stem cell agency, which awarded a $4.9 million recruitment grant to Coffey last fall. Coffey's name came up today during a discussion about extending the agency's $44 million recruitment effort.

CIRM President Alan Trounson said that Coffey had made a final decision about coming to California. CIRM directors were told that Coffey would be at work in November in Santa Barbara. Coffey is known for his work in eye disease and is readying a clinical trial on a therapy.

The growth of stem cell research at UCSB is one of the more dramatic stories to come out of passage of Prop. 71 in 2004, which created California's $3 billion research effort. The campus had virtually no stem cell program at the time. Its grants currently from CIRM run only to $13.5 million, but it has made the most of its research talent and added more.

UCSB campus -- UCSB photo
Coffey is not the first world reknown stem cell scientist to be lured to the beachfront campus nestled below the Santa Ynez mountains. Jamie Thomson of the University of Wisconsin is co-director of the stem cell center at UCSB and an adjunct professor at the school. Thomson was the first researcher to isolate human embryonic stem cells.

In 2007, UC Santa Barbara's growing work in stem cells attracted a $3 million gift from one of the founders of Amgen, William Bowes. The addition of Coffey to its staff is certain to draw the attention of potential future donors along with such firms as Pfizer, which is a partner in Coffey's work in the UK and which has committed $100 million for stem cell research in that country.

Dennis Clegg, co-director UCSB
 stem cell program -- UCSB photo
Coffey has been collaborating with researchers at UC Santa Barbara, including Dennis Clegg,  co-director of the UCSB Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering, for several years. Clegg was also instrumental in recruiting Thomson. The campus is involved in a $20 million, multi-institution grant from CIRM targeting macular degeneration, the major cause of blindness among the elderly. The California school has also established a center for the study of macular degeneration.

Coffey, UCSB, USC, Caltech, the City of Hope and University College, London, Coffey's former employer, are tied together in The California Project to Cure Blindness, which is seeking to "prevent the loss of vision and improve the quality of life for those suffering from age-related macular degeneration by 2015." 

UCSB has not yet made an official announcement of Coffey's decision, but the California Stem Cell Report is querying the school.

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