Scanning electron micrograph of cultured human neuron from induced pluripotent stem cell.
Scanning electron micrograph of cultured human neuron from induced pluripotent stem cell. Photo via Mark Ellisman and Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, UC San Diego

UC San Diego will use the largest single gift in its history to fund an institute tasked with expanding stem cell research and regenerative medicine, it was announced Tuesday.

The $150 million gift from businessman and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford follows up on his $100 million gift in 2013, which established UCSD as a leader in developing and delivering the therapeutic promise of human stem cells.

The special cells have the ability to develop into many different cell types which, when modified and repurposed, have the potential to treat, remedy or cure a vast array of conditions and diseases.

“Denny’s previous generosity spurred discoveries in stem cell research and medicine at UC San Diego that are already benefiting countless patients around the world,” Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said. “His most recent gift adds to our portfolio of stem cell research conducted in Earth’s orbit that will help us better understand the progression of cancer cells and aging.”

New programs to be established at the UCSD Sanford Stem Cell Institute aboard the International Space Station include:

  • Education and Integrated Space Stem Cell Orbital Research Program, for stem cell research conducted in a laboratory bay located aboard the space station currently in low-Earth orbit.
  • Fitness and Space Medicine Program, in-depth space fitness and orbital medicine that can benefit both astronauts and people living on Earth.
  • Stem Cell Accelerator, which will support regenerative medicine company development, including contract research in low-Earth orbit.

“We are thrilled to announce the establishment of the UC San Diego Sanford Stem Cell Institute with Denny Sanford’s generous support,” said Dr. Catriona Jamieson, who will direct the institute. “This will allow us to keep pace with the growing need for regenerative and stem-cell based therapies and accelerate translational stem cell research and discoveries that will transform human health for years to come.”

According to the university, exposure to radiation and microgravity in low-Earth orbit can simulate — and speed up — aging in stem cells, as well as their transformation into cancer cells. Space-related research may have applications that create better treatments for various cancers and diseases on Earth, including blood cancers, as well as neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“This investment enables the team to dream beyond what is possible,” Sanford said. “The sky is no longer the limit.”

In addition to his investment to create the Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center at UCSD Health in 2013, Sanford’s gifts established the T. Denny Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion in 2019, which “focuses on research into the neurological basis of compassion, with application toward developing compassion and empathy-focused training for future generations of medical professionals,” the university said.

He also recently made a $5 million gift to support the Epstein Family Alzheimer’s Research Collaboration, a partnership between UCSD and the University of Southern California to spark collaborative efforts to discover effective therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.

–City News Service