Crump Institute researchers receive major stem cell grants

Two Crump Institute scientists have been awarded more than $1.8 million in state grants to develop innovative tools and technologies that will help overcome technical hurdles in advancing basic, translational and clinical stem cell research.

Michael Phelps, Norton Simon Professor and Crump Institute Director, will receive a two-year, $914,096 grant to develop ways to follow the fate and function of transplanted stem cells in patients using positron emission tomography (PET), a technology Phelps developed.

Hsian-Rong Tseng, Crump Institute faculty member and an assistant professor of molecular and medical pharmacology, will receive a two-year, $914,096 grant to develop and validate a robotic microfluidic platform that will aid research with human pluripotent stem cells, which hold great potential in treating disease and repairing injury.

The grants were among 23 awarded Dec. 10 to researchers at 18 institutions by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the voter-created state agency that administers funding for stem cell research. Part of the institute's Tools and Technologies Awards, the grants support the development and evaluation of innovative tools and technologies that will help researchers overcome roadblocks in stem cell research. The awards were given to scientists to either create new tools and technologies or expand on existing tools or technologies that have shown promise.

One of the promises of stem cell science is that doctors will one day be able to isolate and modify a patient's stem cells and then inject them back into the patient to treat disease without risk of rejection by the body. A key challenge is how to monitor those cells once they are modified and returned to the body. Scientists need to be able to follow the transplanted cells to see if they survive, travel to areas of disease and reestablish activity to counteract disease. Phelps proposes to do this using PET scanning. Phelps, chair of the UCLA Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, hopes to develop three ways to follow these cells with PET. In one, distinctive changes in functions inside of cells will be probed using radioactive molecules. The second approach will use antibodies to detect transplanted cells based on distinctive markers on their surface. The third approach marks the transplanted cells themselves using genes that will cause the cells to emit a signal detectable by PET.