Two cardiology investigators from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA have been awarded grants totaling more than $6 million from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state's stem cell agency.
The young physician–scientists, Dr. Reza Ardehali and Dr. Ali Nsair, will use the CIRM funds to conduct leading-edge research into the developmental and molecular biology of stem cells in their efforts to advance regenerative medicine for heart disease. Their studies will help form the foundation for translational and clinical advances, enabling human stem cells to be used for potential therapies and as tools for biomedical innovation.
The CIRM grants, known as New Faculty Physician Scientist Translational Research Awards, are given to clinician–scientists in the first six years of their first independent faculty appointments. The awards were announced Dec. 12 during the regular meeting of the CIRM Independent Citizens Oversight Committee at the Luxe Hotel in Los Angeles.
Dr. Reza Ardehali, an assistant professor of cardiology and a member of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center, was awarded more than $2.9 million for research to isolate heart stem cells derived from human embryonic stem cells — cells that can become any cell in the body — to determine if these heart cells can be integrated successfully into the environment of a living heart or if they will function in isolation at a different pace.
Ardehali uses an analogy: "The performance of a symphony can go into chaos if one member plays in isolation from all surrounding cues. Therefore, it is important to determine if the transplanted cells can beat in harmony with the rest of the heart and if these cells will provide functional benefit to the injured heart."
Ardehali will transplant the heart stem cells into injured hearts in an animal model to determine if the cells improve heart function. He also will perform detailed analysis of the electrical activities of the heart to determine how well the stem cells grow and integrate into new heart tissue. The success of this proposed project could lead to future clinical trials of stem cell therapy for heart disease.
Dr. Ali Nsair, an assistant professor of medicine and cardiology and a member of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center, was awarded more than $3 million for research using induced pluripotent stem cells — tissue-specific blood or skin cells that have been reprogrammed to become like human embryonic stem cells — to develop heart tissue cells known as cardiac progenitor cells. Once these cardiac progenitor cells are grown in the laboratory, they will be used to regenerate heart muscle damaged by heart attack.
The Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research: UCLA's stem cell center was launched in 2005 with a UCLA commitment of $20 million over five years. A $20 million gift from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation in 2007 resulted in the renaming of the center. With more than 200 members, the Broad Stem Cell Research Center is committed to a multidisciplinary, integrated collaboration among scientific, academic and medical disciplines for the purpose of understanding adult and human embryonic stem cells. The center supports innovation, excellence and the highest ethical standards focused on stem cell research with the intent of facilitating basic scientific inquiry directed toward future clinical applications to treat disease. The center is a collaboration of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center, the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and the UCLA College of Letters and Science.