The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) awarded over $6 million in grants to two cardiology researchers from UCLA’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research. The investigators, Reza Ardehali, M.D., Ph.D, and Ali Nsair, M.D., will conduct research on the developmental and molecular biology of stem cells to advance regenerative medicine for heart disease.

Dr. Ardehali is assistant professor of cardiology and a member of the stem cell research center. He was awarded over $2.9 million for research to isolate heart stem cells derived from human embryonic stem cells, and determine whether the new heart cells are capable of integrating into the heart environment or whether they will function in isolation at their own pace.

“The performance of a symphony can go into chaos if one member plays in isolation from all surrounding cues,” says Dr. Ardehali. “Therefore, it is important to determine if the transplanted cells can beat in harmony with the rest of the heart and if these cells will provide functional benefit to the injured heart.”

To find out, he will transplant the heart stem cells into an animal model’s injured heart to determine if the cells improve heart function. Dr. Ardehali also will perform detailed analysis of the electrical activities of the heart to determine how well the stem cells grow and integrate into new heart tissue. If the project is successful, he hopes it may ultimately lead to future clinical trials of stem cell therapy for heart disease.

Dr. Nsair is assistant professor of medicine, cardiology, and a member of the stem cell research center. He received over $3 million for research using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs). Once the CPCs are grown in the laboratory, they will be used to regenerate heart muscle damaged by myocardial infarction.

CIRM has awarded more than $1.5 billion to date. Just last week a report from the Institute of Medicine urged the agency to develop a plan for sustaining itself when its $3 billion in state bond funding from Proposition 71 runs out in 2017. Suggestions included increasing the role of industry executives in the governing board and key aspects of the agency, tightening conflict-of-interest rules, and shifting decisions on grant approvals and other operations from the governing board to day-to-day execs using advice from a working group. For more on the IOM report, click here.

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