The ALS Association Golden West Chapter has recognized USC Stem Cell researcher Justin Ichida, PhD, with the 2017 Essey Commitment to a Cure Award for his outstanding achievements in the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The award was presented at the 2017 Champions for Care and a Cure benefit on Dec. 2 at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica.

Ichida is an assistant professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and a New York Stem Cell Foundation-Robertson Investigator. He grew up in Hawaii, where he developed an interest in science after reading Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. After studying molecular biology at UCLA, he investigated the early origins of life on Earth by attempting to recreate primitive life in a test tube during his PhD studies at Harvard University. Ichida then leveraged what he learned about synthesizing biological systems to identify a way to convert human skin cells into nerve cells. At USC, the Ichida Lab now uses this approach to identify therapeutic targets for ALS by studying nerve cells generated from patient skin and blood samples. Ichida also isa member of the California ALS Research Network and hosted their annual summit at USC in January 2017.

Other 2017 Essey Award honorees will include:

  • Chris Gardner and The Hollywood Reporter, the recipients of the 2017 Spotlight Award, for their commitment to raise ALS awareness through their compassionate and detailed coverage of Hollywood publicist Nanci Ryder’s ALS diagnosis and progression with the disease; and
  • the Tazman Family, including Joy, Susan, Debbi, and Ron, the recipients of the 2017 Cornerstone Award for their unwavering support of the ALS community through the Golden West Chapter’s fundraising, awareness and advocacy initiatives over the past 15 years.

The Essey Awards, named in honor of one of the Golden West Chapter’s founders, Richard “Dick” Essey, are given annually for outstanding efforts in support of ALS research, care services and public policy initiatives.