Newswise — A team of Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute researchers led by Terrence Town, Ph.D. has been awarded a three-year, $1.47 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to fund research into mechanisms for how human immune systems reject or accept transplanted brain stem cells.

The grant will be used to study genetically-modified mice with human leukocyte antigen (HLA), molecules on white blood cells that determine tissue compatibility for organ transplantation. The Cedars-Sinai team was one of 19 to receive a grant today from the California state stem cell agency. The current round of $25 million in funding is to support research into how stem cell therapies can overcome immune resistance.

“For organ transplantation, it has long been appreciated that HLA type must be matched between donor and recipient  and the transplantation of stem cells might also require good matching to be successful,” said Town, the principal investigator of the study and associate professor at Cedars-Sinai in the departments of Biomedical Science and Neurosurgery and the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute. “But to perfectly match HLA for brain stem cell graft recipients is nearly impossible because there are hundreds of different combinations of HLA markers. What we want to find out is how far we can get from a perfect match before the body rejects those cells. Once we have this information it will be extremely useful for stem cell transplant surgeons right here in California and around the world.”

The author of more than 85 scientific publications, Town is a well-known neuroimmunologist whose research focuses on understanding and treating neurologic disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, viral encephalitis, and stroke. He holds the Ben Winters Chair in Regenerative Medicine.

“The support we receive from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is crucial to developing the leading-edge treatments of tomorrow,” said Clive Svendsen, Ph.D. director of the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute and co-investigator on the grant. “Ultimately, we hope to use the results from this study to develop new stem cell therapies for patients with ALS, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. Solving the immune issue will help us to transplant stem cells into the brains of patients with neurological diseases without being rejected. This will allow us to generate new, healthy cells and replace diseased tissues.”

“This grant underscores the important role regenerative medicine is playing in helping us unlock the mysteries of degenerative neurological diseases,” said Shlomo Melmed, M.D., Cedars-Sinai’s senior vice president of academic affairs and dean of the medical faculty. “Because of the important work being funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, patients and their families have renewed hope.” The California Institute was established in November, 2004 with the passage of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act, which provided $3 billion in funding for stem cell research at universities and research institutions.

Under Svendsen’s direction, the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute has been gaining notice. Recently, the institute received a $3.7 million National Institutes of Health grant to provide five leading laboratories, including one at Cedars-Sinai, with the adult stem cells to be used in the development of potential therapies to address another fatal neurodegenerative condition, Huntington’s disease. Earlier this month, the institute hosted a symposium that included some of the most respected scientists in stem cell research, including Sir Ian Wilmut, OBE, the leader of the research group that in 1996 first cloned a mammal from an adult somatic cell, a lamb named Dolly, and James Thomson, VMD, Ph.D., widely credited with discovering embryonic stem cells when he led the University of Wisconsin team of scientists that in the 1990s became the first to isolate and grow primate and human embryonic stem cells. The Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute brings together basic scientists with specialist clinicians, physician scientists and translational scientists across multiple medical specialties to translate fundamental stem cell studies to therapeutic regenerative medicine. The Institute is housed in new laboratories designed for stem cell and regenerative medicine research. At the heart of the Institute is a specialized core facility for the production of pluripotent stem cells capable of making all tissues in the human body from adult human skin biopsies. Cells produced within the Institute are for use in a variety of Cedars-Sinai medical research programs, currently focusing on understanding the causes of and finding treatments for diseases of the brain, heart, eye, liver, kidney, pancreas and skeletal structures, as well as cancer and metabolic disorders.