Researchers awarded $4.7 million to study genomic variation in stem cell production

Tiare Dunlap |

A team of scientists from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA has been awarded a $4.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate how genomic variation influences the production of induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells.

The five-year grant to researchers Brunilda Balliu, Jason Ernst, Chongyuan Luo, Kathrin Plath, Roy Wollman and Noah Zaitlen is one of 25 announced today as part of the NIH’s new Impact of Genomic Variation on Function (IGVF) Consortium.

To create human iPS cells, scientists take skin, blood or other tissue-specific cells and reprogram them back to a stem-like state. These reprogrammed cells can make unlimited copies of themselves and can be coaxed to differentiate into any cell type found in the body, making them an attractive potential source for cell therapies for a range of diseases and injuries.

However, because each person has slight differences in the sequence of their DNA — genomic variations — iPS cells derived from various donors respond differently to the techniques used in reprogramming and differentiation.

To begin to understand precisely why and how this happens, the researchers will study iPS cells derived from 100 individuals from a range of ethnic and racial backgrounds with the goal of connecting the cells’ genomic variations to differences in their reprogramming and differentiation capacities.

“Induced pluripotent stem cells are the foundation of regenerative medicine, but before we can realize their full potential, we need to understand them more deeply,” said Luo, the project’s leader and an assistant professor of human genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

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