Friday, May 29, 2020

California's Stem Cell Agency Backs More Covid Research in its $5 Million Round

The California stem cell agency this afternoon awarded a total of $450,000 to three researchers to fight Covid-19, which has infected nearly 91,000 persons in the Golden State and nearly 1.8 million nationally.

The action brought to nine the number of awards made in the agency's $5 million Covid round, which now has about $2.5 million remaining. 

Today's awards involved basic research, including a project aimed at a vaccine. Maria Millan, CEO of the agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), said in a news release. 
"“These three projects highlight three very different approaches to combatting the acute devastating health manifestations of Covid-19 as well as the debilitating sequelae that impact the ability to recover from the acute illness. Through this Covid funding opportunity, CIRM is enabling researchers to re-direct work they have already done, often with CIRM support, to quickly develop new approaches to Covid-19."
The vaccine research award (application number DISC2COVID19- 11941) went to Albert Wong of Stanford. The $149,000 grant will be used to develop a cellular response to beef up immunity. A CIRM news release said Wong's "team will use the experience it gained using CIRM funds ($3 million) to (fight) glioblastoma, a deadly brain cancer, to advance a similar approach to produce an effective cellular immune response to combat Covid-19."

CIRM directors directed Wong to apply for a supplement of up to $100,000 to cover more work to assure that his work has application to under-served and under-researched communities that have been the most seriously affected by Covid.

Another Stanford scientist, Helen Blau, was awarded $149,996 (DISC2COVID19-11920) to help prevent atrophy of the diaphragms in Covid patients on mechanical ventilation. 

Jianhua Yu of the City of Hope was awarded $150,000 (DISC2COVID19-11947) for research to turn umbical cord blood cells into natural killer cells that would target Covid. The research would leverage existing studies that the City of Hope has developed to treat cancer. 

Summaries of the reviews of their applications and scores can be found here. That web page also includes summaries of the review of the 10 applications that were rejected. 

CIRM directors are expected to meet again within the next couple of weeks to fund more Covid research under its fast-track effort to combat the disease. The agency was created 15 years ago with $3 billion in state funding, but it is running out of money and will begin closing its doors this fall unless more funds are forthcoming. 

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