State News
$150 Million For Disease Treatment
By Charlie Golestani
Aug 1, 2012 - 9:35:08 AM

CALIFORNIAThe California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has pledged fresh funds of $150 million to new and “promising” stem cell therapies, hoping to move them out of the labs and into the clinical stages.

CIRM, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, first established in 2004 by Proposition 71, now pledges and manages funding for the study of stem-cell treatment. The initiative authorizes up to $3 billion over a period of 10 years for research. The program is state-funded not federally funded.

The funding would aid in the study and possible eradication of untreatable and usually fatal disorders including Huntington’s disease, metastatic melanoma, osteoporosis, critical limb ischemia, spinal cord injury, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and cardiovascular disease.

University of California, Davis' research on Huntington's looks to be some of the most promising for unearthing a treatment.

“People are hopeful, truly hopeful for the first time,” says Judy Roberson, a Huntington’s disease patient advocate. “This is a nightmarish, cruel disease in every way but now, thanks to CIRM, we are turning the dream of a stem cell therapy trial into a reality.”

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Huntington’s is a degenerative nerve disorder of the brain. A defect on the 4th chromosome causes repetitive DNA segments, dubbed CAG repeats, to occur at about 3 to 6 times the normal rate. The disease is passed down from family members. Through succession, the number of repeats grows larger, thus the disease’s apparent effects are seen earlier and earlier with each generation.

Symptoms of Huntington's include hallucinations, irritability, paranoia, and psychoses which can lead to worse cases of dementia and muscle disorders.

Studies for such debilitating disorders can be awarded up to $20 million each for research by CIRM. Recipients were chosen from a pool of 21 applicants, then rated on the merits of research by an independent group of scientists.

“Everything we do in this innovative Disease Team Program is focused on getting good science converted to productive treatments for patients,” says Alan Trounson, PhD, President of CIRM. 

Spiny neurons, indicative of Huntington's Disease. Photo courtesy of CIRM
The Disease Team awards are designed to foster unity and collaboration between disciplines in the spirit of discovery. UCLA’s Antoni Ribas received a New Faculty award (about $3 million) in 2008 by CIRM, and most recently a Disease Team award to further advance his research in metastatic melanoma, according to Jonathan Thomas, PhD, JD, Chair of the Governing Board of CIRM.

CIRM has 20 collaborative funding partners around the world also committed to the goal of cures and treatments for diseases with little relief.

University of California, Davis took the lion’s share, with three separate treatment programs (Huntington’s, osteoporosis, and critical limb ischemia) pulling in a combined $53 million in funding, Stanford and its treatments for heart failure and revolutionary chemotherapy-free transplant therapies received almost $40 million while UCLA, StemCells, Inc. and Cedars Sinai Medical all received nearly $20 million for their cancer, spinal cord, and ALS treatments respectively.

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