Keck School of Medicine of USC researchers Qi-Long Ying and Gregor Adams are the recipients of a National Institutes of Health grant and an American Society of Hematology award that will enhance their individual work in stem cell research and therapy development.
Ying, assistant professor of cell and neurobiology at the Keck School, and a researcher at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC, received a five-year grant totaling $2 million from the National Institutes of Health to further his research utilizing rat embryonic stem cells.
In 2008, researchers at the Keck School led by Ying derived rat embryonic stem cells for the first time in history. The investigators found that stem cells from rats, which previously have failed to propagate at all, could be grown indefinitely in the laboratory in the primitive embryonic state.
The finding was heralded as a major breakthrough that would enable scientists to create far more effective models for the study of human diseases.
Rats have a heart rate similar to that of humans, as compared to mice, which have a heart rate five to 10 times as fast. Genetically engineered rat models more closely mimic human disease than mouse models.
“Rat physiology is much more closely related to humans in several areas, including cardiovascular disease and obesity,” Ying said. “The use of these cells will greatly impact our ability to address fundamental biological questions related to human diseases.”
The grant will help Keck School scientists create “knockout” rats — animals that are genetically modified to lack one or more genes — for biomedical research. By observing what happens to animals when specific genes are removed, researchers can identify the function of the gene and whether it is linked to a specific disease.
“We are quite confident that we will generate knockout rats this year,” Ying said.
Adams, assistant professor of cell and neurobiology at the Keck School and a researcher at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC, is the recipient of an American Society of Hematology Junior Faculty Scholar Award in basic research.
The award of $150,000 over two years, beginning in July, will support his research into the key mechanisms by which hematopoietic, or blood-forming, stem cells are retained in a specific area known as “the stem cell niche” following bone marrow transplants.
“We are using a pharmacological approach to modulate the function of the hematopoietic stem cells,” Adams said. “Therefore, if we observe any beneficial effects in the engraftment of the stem cells, the results of these studies have the potential to be rapidly translated into clinical studies involving hematopoietic stem cell-based therapies.”
The Junior Faculty Scholar Award program is designed to support hematologists who have chosen a career in research by providing partial salary or other support during the critical period required for completion of training and achievement of status as an independent investigator. The American Society of Hematology is the world’s largest professional society concerned with the causes and treatment of blood disorders.
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