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Four San Diego Powerhouses Join Forces for Stem Cell Research

By Ioana Patringenaru | March 20, 2006

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Signing the March 17 agreement to establish the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine are (from left to right): Douglas Bingham, executive vice president and chief operating officer, The Scripps Research Institute; Richard Murphy, president and CEO, the Salk Institute; Marye Anne Fox, chancellor, University of California, San Diego; John Reed, president and CEO, Burnham Institute for Medical Research.

UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and leaders of three other San Diego science institutions signed an agreement Friday to create a ground-breaking alliance  dedicated to stem cell research. The independent consortium plans to build a joint facility and seek funding for stem cell work.

In addition to UCSD, the new San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine includes the Burnham Institute, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and The Scripps Research Institute. The organization plans to seek funds both from private sources and from a $3 billion stem cell initiative California voters approved in 2004. UC Regent and Padres chairman John Moores and QUALCOMM co-founder Irwin Jacobs were instrumental in bringing about the agreement, officials said. This world-class alliance will have a global impact, Jacobs, a member of the consortium’s board, said during a press conference Friday at The Lodge at Torrey Pines. Chancellor Fox echoed his comments.

Further information:

Watch a Video of the
March 17 Press Conference
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Visit the UCSD Stem Cells Website

“We believe strongly that this consortium will provide even more life-saving results in the form of therapies and cures,” she said.

The goal here is to use stem cells to find cures for many ills, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, said John Reed, president and CEO of the Burnham Institute. “Californians have always been pioneers and innovators,” he said. “By forming this consortium, we here in San Diego are continuing this tradition."

“I’m sure this will produce enlightenment and surprises,” said Douglas Bingham, executive vice president and chief operating officer for The Scripps Research Institute.

Human embryonic stem cells can turn into any kind of cell in the human body. Researchers hope they one day will be able to use the cells to grow replacement parts for damaged organs or tissue. But the research is controversial because the cells are harvested from human embryos, which are usually about six days old and consist of around 200 cells.

The consortium will provide its four members with resources that they don’t have on their own, said Richard Murphy, president and CEO of the Salk Institute.

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Chancellor Marye Anne Fox responds to a question from the audience at the press conference.

UCSD brings its medical school to the table, Vice Chancellor Edward Holmes said after the press conference. The university will reap many rewards from the agreement, he added. Undergraduates, graduate and medical school students will get a chance to work with top researchers and study stem cells in depth. Meanwhile, scientists will collaborate with experts from partner institutions, improving research outcomes. Finally, new research will yield new therapies, Holmes said.

“It benefits UCSD in all its missions: education, research and community service,” he said.
 
The partners are looking at UCSD land to build the new facility that will be home to the consortium’s researchers, Fox said. The four institutions have yet to work out detailed plans for the facility, including how many people it will house and how much it will cost, Murphy said.

“We’re thinking big,” Reed hastened to add.

Also, there isn’t yet a clear timeline for the project, officials said.

“But I’m a real impatient person,” Fox said jokingly. “So we’re going to work as fast as we can.”

Part of the problem is that California’s stem cell initiative, Prop. 71, is currently tied up in court. That trial ended at the beginning of this month but the judge’s verdict has yet to come. Murphy said he believes that delays won’t last and that money from the initiative will start flowing within a year. 

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