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barbara
01-22-2010, 04:35 PM
City of Hope receives contract to take stem cell research from `bench to clinic'
By Emma Gallegos, Staff Writer 01/21/2010
Pasadena-Star News

DUARTE - City of Hope has received $8.6 million contract with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to turn stem cell research into stem cell therapy, officials announced this week.

"Embryonic stem cells just took a big giant leap into the clinic," said Larry Couture, a principal investigator for the contract at City of Hope.

This 5-year contract will make the Duarte-based cancer treatment and research center the only designated stem cell production center in the United States.

It will fund the production of both mature cells that are reprogrammed to act like stem cells, as well as embryonic cells, officials said.

Because the contract is the first of its kind, stem cell researchers all over will turn to City of Hope as they approach the stage when they need human clinical trials, Couture said.

"What's cool for us is a large of number of those technologies - regardless of where they come from in the United States or around the world - will all come through our facilities," he said.

One of the technologies on the verge of needing clinical trials is the use of cardiac muscle tissue. The NHLBI contract will allow City of Hope to work with stem cell researchers who have learned how to grow the cells in the cardiac muscle tissue.

The researchers discovered that these cells have the ability to beat on their own and synch with their neighboring cells - both in a laboratory setting and in the hearts of
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animals that have been tested. But the cells' ability to repair heart tissue have never been tested on humans.

That's because taking research from the laboratory to clinical trials and receiving FDA approval can be the most difficult and expensive part of creating new therapies, Couture said.

The first breakthrough in creating cell cultures from embryonic stem cells was made in 1998, and now the research of the past 12 years - Couture calls it a "blink of the eye" - is ripe for clinical trials.

Clinical trials are high-risk, and most such trials won't work or produce the results that scientists are hoping for on the first try, Couture said.

That makes it an unattractive area for the biotechnology industry to fund. But Couture said City of Hope can afford to take on those risks.

"It's not about whether we cure a disease - it's about whether we learn something important in that human setting that we couldn't have learned in any other setting," Couture said.

The contract with the NHLBI, which is part of the National Institute of Health, comes on the heels of a slew of stem cell research grants.

City of Hope was awarded $36.7 million for stem cell research last year by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which was formed in 2004 after California voters passed a proposition funding stem cell research.

The research center is using that money to fund studies on stem cells that may provide therapies for patients suffering from brain tumors or HIV.