5 Questions: Baker on new funds for stem cells

Julie Baker

Many of the latest round of grants from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine went to researchers who will now be able to expand their human embryonic stem cell projects. Medical Center Report's Amy Adams spoke with Julie Baker, PhD, assistant professor of genetics, about what her new CIRM funding for $2.6 million means to her research and to efforts to find new cures for disease.

1. This grant will fund the continuation of a project you started a few years ago. What have you been doing?

Baker: I have been collaborating with Barry Behr, PhD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, to develop new stem cell lines from embryos that were donated or left over from in vitro fertilization treatments. The initial money I received from the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine allowed me to pay a postdoctoral scholar and a technician, who have isolated four new lines from 45 embryos. With our remaining money we have been characterizing the lines we have, rather than continuing to generate new lines.

2. How will the CIRM funding change the project?

Baker: We'll be able to move forward with creating new stem cell lines. I'll also be able to hire additional staff to isolate and characterize the lines at a much faster rate. As part of the grant, we are also planning to isolate stem cell lines from embryos diagnosed with genetic diseases, such as Down's syndrome, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. These lines could be very important for researchers hoping to understand and treat those diseases.

3. How does this project fit with CIRM's focus on finding cures for disease?

Baker: One of CIRM's initial goals is to develop new human embryonic stem cell lines, including disease-specific lines such as the ones we are planning to derive. In order to generate new cures, researchers need access to high-quality stem cell lines. Many of the lines currently available are hard to work with in the lab and aren't able to be used in human therapies.

4. How will these grants change human embryonic stem cell research at Stanford?

Baker: Between the two rounds of research grants, CIRM funding has brought new stem cell researchers into the field and is allowing many of us to greatly expand our human embryonic stem cell research efforts. Without this source of funding, stem cell researchers would make very slow, if any, progress toward finding cures for diseases. I think this funding will also make Stanford a real powerhouse. If you look at the breadth of people funded, we have researchers in cardiology, otolaryngology, developmental biology, neurology and immunology all bringing their experience to bear on a similar set of problems. That experience is going to help all of us in the field.

5. Why is CIRM funding important for the field of stem cell research?

Baker: Federal grants can't fund the type of work that is needed in order for the field to move forward and to generate new cures for disease. Without CIRM funding, most stem cell researchers in California wouldn't be able to continue their research.