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Two CIRM Fellows from UCB Explore Stem Cell Research at CHORI

As part of CHORI's ongoing commitment to education, CHORI is a proud host of two research fellows supported though the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). CIRM grants are managed through the collaborative Berkeley Stem Cell Center, a joint venture between CHORI, the only academic medical center in the East Bay, and the University of California, Berkeley.

California voters agreed in Proposition 71 to override the federal moratorium on using federal funding for research on unapproved stem cell lines, but the proposition has been tied up in the courts. Grants such as CIRM's, however, have been made available to train researchers in stem cell research in the mean time.

"The fellows start with research that we can legally do using federal funds, but that has a direct relationship to embryonic stem cells," explains Frans Kuypers, PhD, a CHORI principal investigator in the Center for Sickle Cell Disease and Thalassemia who is also mentoring one of the CIRM fellows.

In CHORI's case, the Sibling Donor Cord Blood Program provides the invaluable opportunity for fellows to work with stem cell cord blood, or embryonic-like stem cells.

"Like embryonic stem cells, cord blood stem cells are pluripotent - they haven't yet made up their minds what they are going to become," explains Dr. Kuypers. "The question is whether the cord blood stem cells harbor the same ability as embryonic stem cells to do whatever they want to do. The general opinion is that they do."

The question of how they do it remains to be seen, however, and answering that question is just one of the things that the CIRM fellows hope to accomplish with their work at CHORI.

Myra Mizokami MD, PhD, is working under Dr. Kuypers' mentorship with cord blood stem cells and mice to explore how stem cells find their way to desired targets and potential ways in which they can be manipulated to do their jobs better, while Joseph Dhahbi MD, PhD, is working with David Martin, MD to explore the epigenetic silencing of a particular gene during the stem cell stage of embryonic development.

Drs. Mizokami and Dhahbi are just 2 of 24 different fellows pursuing research interests at CHORI, however; their fellowships represent but a small slice of the educational opportunities CHORI helps provide to the next generation of scientists.

With the Summer Research Program , dozens of fellowships, additional funding for doctorate and postdoctorate research through individual principal investigators at CHORI, and the recently re-approved T32 funding through NIH, CHORI is fertile ground for young researchers seeking out the best that hands-on education has to offer.

As a result, landing a CHORI fellowship is highly competitive, and CHORI is lucky enough to get fellows like Drs. Mizokami and Dhahbi who are, as Dr. Kuypers says, the cream of the crop. As a result, the educational exchange goes both ways.

"I mentor the fellows on one hand, but on the other, I'm a partner," says Dr. Kuypers. "The clinical fellows often come here with a whole different kind knowledge base - I know stuff that they don't know, but they know stuff that I don't know. Based on that, we make a partnership. It's a very enjoyable experience."

It is through just these kinds of partnerships, born from CHORI's commitment to education, that the institute continues to work toward impacting global health, one patient at a time. As Dr. Kuypers points out:

"We don't transplant mice to transplant mice. We do it to improve protocols that will lead to better patient care in the clinical environment."

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Monday, May 16, 2011 11:33 PM

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