UC Merced officials say its new cutting-edge stem cell research facility will improve its faculty's research capabilities in the field.
The new center could also lead to biotechnology job creation in the Central Valley.
It will also help attract future faculty to the institution, officials said.
The university unveiled its Stem Cell Instrumentation Foundry on Wednesday. The 3,905-square-foot facility, which includes two ultraclean rooms that prevent various particles from interfering with the research, was supported with a $4.36 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The total cost for the facility was about $7 million, and the other $3 million came from the university, according to Steve Rabedeaux, technical and space allocation manager.
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Rabedeaux said the facility will expand research opportunities for UC Merced faculty members. It will also be available for researchers throughout the state to use. The unit will allow researchers to study individual stem cells with highly specialized equipment. This kind of analysis will help researchers better understand how stem cells make decisions. The goal of the research is to use cells for regenerative medicine, which could help fight diseases such as cancer, heart diseases and neural degeneration.
About 10 faculty members at UC Merced conduct stem cell research, officials said.
Jennifer Manilay, a stem cell researcher at the university, said the facility will make a difference in her research because it will provide a lower barrier to access specialized equipment. She said the facility offers a unique environment to try many kinds of experiments.
"If this facility wasn't on campus, I wouldn't necessarily have thought of the experimental design that I'm thinking of using for this facility," she said. "This instrumentation and this kind of experimental design for stem cells is unique, and it takes collaboration between different scientists and engineers to design tools that will allow you to answer very specific questions."
Manilay is being funded by the CIRM to investigate how to make blood cells from mouse embryonic stem cells. She said the goal of the research is to transplant the blood stem cells that will be developed in the lab into an adult mouse. The mouse would emulate the patient who would receive stem cell therapy.
However, Manilay added, "One problem that we envision from scientific literature as well as our experiment is that when you transplant these stem cells into a patient, they may not migrate to the right place."
As adults, blood stem cells reside in the bone marrow. That's where they get the signals to grow and to further develop into other blood cells, Manilay explained. However, the cells that she's trying to make from the mouse embryonic stem cells won't necessarily behave the same as adult stem cells. "So what we envision the facility would allow us to do is actually recreate a bone marrow environment in the lab where we can take our very rare stem cells and study how they migrate," she said. "To observe what makes them travel to the right place and what makes them not migrate to the right place so that way we can use that data to better improve what we're doing in the lab."
Manilay said the cells that she's making are very rare. When they are transplanted into a patient, it's hard to trace where they will wind up in the body.
But the foundry will also allow for the construction of what it's called lab-on-a-chip devices where researchers will be able to visualize individual cells and how they respond. "It allows us to formulate new hypotheses as to how we can improve the viability of stem cells when you put them in a patient," she said.
The benefits will go beyond the research opportunities.
Manilay said UC Merced serves many local students. The new facility could keep those students interested in this specific field in the area. "This could be a way to connect students who are interested in biotechnology careers to maybe actually have jobs in the Valley instead of having to leave to find jobs," she added.
Rabedeaux agreed by saying the facility could lead to the creation of jobs in the future. "As any other university, I'm hoping that new companies are going to be developed from the research that's done here," he said. "New companies are going to be developed and spur growth within the local community."
The facility will help researchers generate more grants, Rabedeaux said. "From a research standpoint, we'll get more grants and these grants will allow us to purchase different pieces of equipment, or what we call tools, so different types of research can be done," he said. "Maybe another grant will help us expand our facility."
But for now, Rabedeaux said Vice Chancellor for Research Sam Traina will begin to work with faculty to develop procedures on how to use the facility. Researchers and graduate students could begin to use the facility in about four weeks.
University officials, staff, faculty, students and donors attended the ribbon-cutting event.
Ed and Jeanne Kashian of Fresno donated $100,000, and a microscopy room in the facility will be named after them.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 388-6507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.