Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) have been awarded $2.9 million in grants from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to support research into stem cell discoveries that lay the foundation for future therapies.

The Basic Biology Awards received formal approval Thursday from the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC), the 29-member governing board of the institute. The state's stem cell agency awarded a total $16 million to researchers at five institutions in the first annual round of funding for Basic Biology Awards. The grants are intended to lead to advances in understanding the basic mechanisms underlying stem cell biology, cellular plasticity, and cellular differentiation.

Keck School of Medicine faculty members Martin Pera, PhD., director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC, and Wange Lu, assistant professor of biochemistry & molecular biology, were among the 12 award recipients. Pera's grant of approximately $1.4 million will fund studies into key processes involved with stem cell renewal. Lu's grant of approximately $1.4 million will look into the molecular mechanisms of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells-cells that can be programmed to become any kind of tissue in the body.

"The research will provide new insights into how embryonic stem cells multiply in the laboratory and how they take the first steps into becoming specialized tissues," says Pera. "The scientists will also learn more about the reverse of this process, specifically how cells from adult tissues can undergo conversion to a state resembling early embryonic cells. These findings will help in large scale production of various specialized cells for use in research or the treatment of disease."

"Our research ultimately will allow us to improve methods to create patient-specific iPS cells for individualized cell replacement therapy, and disease-specific iPS cells which will help in research of the cause of diseases and screening for drugs to treat those diseases," Lu says. Alan Trounson, CIRM President, said these grants to fund basic biology will maintain the flow of new ideas entering the research pipeline. "These basic biology grants will generate new ideas for future therapies and also provide information to help overcome barriers in bringing therapies to patients," he said.

Funding basic research is also a good economic investment, according to Trounson. Former acting NIH director Raynard Kington estimated that each dollar invested by the NIH stimulates $2.50 in associated economic activity.

CIRM was established when voters passed Proposition 71 in 2004 to borrow and spend $3 billion over 10 years to support stem cell research. To date, USC faculty members working at the USC Health Sciences Campus and its affiliate Childrens Hospital Los Angeles have secured more than $60 million in funding. USC is also part of the Southern California Stem Cell Scientific Collaboration (SC3), which is an agreement among six research institutions in Southern California allowing members to share training programs, scientific core facilities and expertise, and to team up on a wide range of research programs.

For more information on USC's stem cell programs, please visit

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