USC’s groundbreaking stem cell research and training programs have received a major boost thanks to a $10 million gift from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.
The donation is part of the foundation’s latest $30 million funding initiative to support its namesake Eli and Edythe Broad stem cell research centers at USC, UCLA and University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The funds will bolster research, training and faculty recruitment and retention at the three universities.
At USC, the new funding will support the center’s core facilities and training programs, enable recruitment and attract collaborative research funding to apply stem cell-based technologies to the challenge of age-associated diseases.
“This generous investment will allow our talented investigators to apply the power of stem cell systems to model disease, identify disease causing mechanisms and develop novel therapeutic approaches targeted to key body systems. With age, the body’s repair and surveillance systems falter, leading to chronic disease and age-associated cancers that compromise health and the quality of life,” said Andrew McMahon, PhD, the W.M. Keck Provost Professor of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and Biological Sciences and director of USC’s stem cell center. “We are grateful to Eli and Edythe Broad for their vital, visionary support of our center’s efforts.”
USC researchers are studying the role of stem cells in normal development, as well as in diseases, injuries and cancers affecting every organ system in the body. To accelerate the translation of this research into clinical therapies, they use a variety of sophisticated approaches — ranging from zebrafish genetically edited to harbor disease-related mutations, to mice with human immune systems, to patient-derived cells that can be grown into mini-organs called organoids. Current projects run the gamut from understanding kidney development to engineering new bone, from performing large drug screens on cells derived from ALS patients to conducting clinical trials addressing everything from macular degeneration to paralysis.
Addressing age-related health problems is especially critical because the nation’s population of older adults is growing. The number of Americans aged 65 or older is expected to increase from 46 million today to more than 98 million by 2060. Most adults in this age group have a chronic disease, and many more live with multiple chronic health conditions.
Broad Foundation gift builds on legacy of support for stem cell research
Voters approved an initiative in 2004 to fund stem cell research in California through the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The Broad Foundation has contributed millions of dollars to this effort, including a $30 million gift to the Keck School of Medicine of USC in 2006 to establish USC’s stem cell research center. The foundation’s latest donation brings its support of stem cell research centers in the state to $110 million.
“We are proud to support the scientists and staff at the Broad stem cell centers at USC, UCLA and UCSF, who are leading our state’s growing stem cell research and treatment infrastructure,” said Gerun Riley, president of the Broad Foundation. “With the centers’ commitment to training scientists, and their advances in identifying potential treatments for cancers, heritable disorders and more, we are hopeful that the centers will make life-changing medical breakthroughs possible for people around the world.”
Part of the foundation’s newest gift will be distributed through the Broad Innovation Awards, a grant program that encourages collaboration among stem cell researchers, engineers, biologists and other experts. The awards program helps scientists pursue research directions that show promise.
“This type of early stage funding is critical to helping innovative faculty establish critical collaborations across our campuses to test new ideas, an essential first step to securing external funding support for a groundbreaking research program,” McMahon said.
Broad Foundation funding enables medical breakthroughs at USC
Previous projects funded through the Broad Innovation Awards include pioneering work to improve bone marrow transplants to treat blood cancers and immune diseases. Other projects include collaborations to address conditions ranging from ALS to urinary incontinence.
In addition to the most recent gift, the Broad Foundation supports other internal grant programs at USC Stem Cell, including a fund for innovative stem cell research and several fellowship initiatives. In 2017, the foundation donated $1 million to support eight stem cell research projects at USC, UCLA and UCSF.
The Broad Foundation’s continued contributions have also enabled scientists in the USC Stem Cell initiative to secure critical research funding from other agencies and foundations, launch biotech startup companies, help create a new master’s degree program in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine and build cutting-edge support facilities to facilitate exploration and translation.
Donation bolsters research at other California universities
Researchers at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA have achieved success in stem cell gene modification, stem cell immunotherapy, cell replacement strategies and drug discovery. The new funding from the Broad Foundation will build on those achievements by advancing promising therapies from the discovery phase into clinical trials. The UCLA center will also use the funds to support technology development, including enhancing collaboration among experts in stem cell technologies and nanomedicine.
The Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF will use the new funding to launch a pilot initiative to better diagnose and treat developmental disorders. Inspired by a groundbreaking clinical trial in which UCSF researchers transplanted a woman’s stem cells into her growing fetus to treat a fatal blood disorder, the center plans to search for other heritable diseases in which early intervention may be possible. The UCSF center will establish a foundational framework beginning with genetic diagnosis of birth defects and culminating with the use of stem cell-based disease models to inform the discovery of promising new drugs.
“The Broad Foundation’s transformative early investment enabled our three centers to attract the best and brightest investigators from around the world,” said Owen Witte, MD, founding director of UCLA’s stem cell center. “These pioneering researchers have embraced the Broads’ mission of improving human health by building a truly collaborative scientific community in California.”
Eli Broad is a member of the Board of Overseers of the Keck School of Medicine of USC. The Broad Foundation was created by Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe, to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts.
— Eric Lindberg