The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) announced on January 17, 2012 that its governing board approved a $40 million initiative to fund one or two Stem Cell Genomics Centers of Excellence in California. CIRM was created by California’s Proposition 71, which authorized the state to issue $3 billion in grants over ten years to support biomedical research in support of regenerative medicine. Since its inception, CIRM has funded basic and translational research on all aspect of regenerative medicine. This is CIRM’s first targeted expansion into the study of the genetics of stem cell biology.
I spoke to Natalie DeWitt, Ph.D., Special Programs Officer of CIRM regarding the initiative and, in particular how the use of genomics will advance the goals of California’s initiative. Stem cells, she noted, are a good system for genetic studies because of the unique biology of the cells. For instance, stem cells can be differentiated to form specialized cell types useful for cell therapies and patient-specific disease modeling, e.g., with a particular type of stem cell – the iPS cell. Genomics technologies are important for understanding the molecular drivers of differentiation, and how genes interact with environmental conditions to produce disease states in specialized cell types. Genome characterization of cell lines destined for cell therapeutics will provide assurance that the cells are safe and do not have activated oncogenic pathways, or carry gene variants associated with disease.