UCSB has just completed a laboratory renovation of 10,000 square feet for the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering, part of the Neuroscience Research Institute.

Through a highly competitive selection process, UCSB was chosen by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to receive funding for the project. The new lab space, located on the third and fourth floors of Biological Sciences II, includes many labs, conference rooms, offices, and equipment rooms. The space also includes a vivarium, an enclosed space where researchers can observe how animals behave. For this renovation to be possible, CIRM contributed $3.2 million, which was matched by UCSB to complete the construction.

The new center is essential for advanced research methods, providing more jobs and guaranteeing a laboratory for future research, regardless of political decisions.

Dennis Clegg, co-director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering and a professor in the department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, explained the significance of the new center.

“CIRM was formed back in 2004 with the passage of Proposition 71. At the time CIRM was created, the federal government would not allow federal funds to be spent for stem cell research mostly using new embryonic stem cell lines. This was under President Bush, who said you could only work on certain stem cell lines that were available. It’s not an issue now; President Obama has rescinded it,” Clegg said.

UCSB is in collaboration with many top researchers for this project, including James Thompson, who is widely recognized as the father of stem cell research. Other researchers include co-director Tom Soh, a professor of mechanical engineering, and Peter Coffey, a researcher from University College London.

The lab hopes to further continue their research on ocular disease, age-related macular degeneration, induced pluripotent stem cells and adult stem cells that hold promise for soft tissue regeneration.

Clegg added that the new center will also conduct research analyzing regenerative abilities in more basic organisms, such as worms.

“We also have a number of researchers looking at model organisms and trying to understand the fundamental processes of stem cell biology and organisms, like the worm and the tunicate. Primitive chordates are related to us and they have the ability to regenerate tissue. This offers some advantages over studying those processes in higher organisms because their genome is smaller and you can really dissect the processes,” Clegg said.

Stem cell research has received negative attention in the past due to the question of ethics, but Clegg explained that when people understand where the cells that are being researched come from, ethics become less of a problem. The cells used in such research come from left over five-day-old blastocysts from in vitro fertilization which, if not used, would be thrown away.

This new center is helping create more opportunities for research and collaboration, bringing UCSB to the top of the field in terms of biomedical research.

A version of this article appeared on page 9 of November 13th, 2012’s print edition of the Nexus.