UCSB’s Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering received $1.2 million from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to train graduate and post-doctoral students in stem cell biology and engineering.

CIRM – established in 2004 as a result of California’s Proposition 71 – provides $3 billion in loans and grants for embryonic stem cell research. Dennis Clegg, co-director of the UCSB Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering, said UCSB has made quite a bit of headway in stem cell research for being such a new program.

“For being a relative newcomer to the field, I think the progress [of the stem cell center] has had a steep upward trajectory,” Clegg said.

UCSB is categorized as a Type 3 facility by CIRM, as the campus provides specialized training to graduate and post-doctoral students. According to CIRM’s Web site, CIRM ranks UCSB the highest Type 3 facility – above research groups at CalTech, City of Hope or the Salk’s Institute.

The stem cell center was awarded a grant three years prior from the CIRM grant to train graduate and post-doctoral students as well.

According to Clegg, the training will provide students with critical information for working in this growing branch of regenerative medicine.

The Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering at UCSB is co-directed by Clegg, along with professor of mechanical engineering and materials Tom Soh and biology adjunct professor James Thomson, who was the first person to isolate human embryonic stem cells.

Since last year, certain floors of the Biological Sciences II building have been under renovation in order to provide state-of-the-art facilities for scientists involved with the stem cell center. According to Clegg, the renovations – done in two parts – aim to provide a shared stem cell lab and more room for new researchers.

Once the facilities are completed, the center will be able to recruit more faculty members and conduct additional studies to further knowledge on possible treatments derived from stem cells. Clegg said the construction of the stem cell labs should be finished in a month.

Clegg said the future of stem cell research looks bright, as the Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first human embryonic stem cell treatment and the Obama administration is hinting that it will diverge from the Bush administration’s policy on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

According to Clegg, the federal government’s softening attitude towards scientific endeavors such as stem cells has left many researchers optimistic about the future of embryonic stem cell research.

“Science is no longer a dirty word in the White House,” Clegg said. “Obama has assembled a world-class team of science advisors and even mentioned science in his inaugural address.”