The San Jose Mercury News Reports,
“Stanford University opens
new stem cell building,
Across the nation, embryonic stem cells live in legal
limbo, their fate uncertain with a lawsuit challenging
public funding for research.
But they are cherished celebrities at Stanford
University's School of Medicine, which on
Wednesday inaugurated a new home for them at the
Lorry I. Lokey Stem Cell Research Building, now the
largest stem cell facility in the nation.
"The stem cell revolution has been launched in
Bob Klein of the California Institute for
Regenerative Medicine declared at the afternoon
ceremony. After his son was diagnosed with
diabetes and his mother with Alzheimer's, Klein w
rote the language for Proposition 71, which
cleared the way for such research in California.
"In this fine facility, research is insulated from federal influence. Science is served by patients, not politics."
The cells, which will contribute to pioneering
research, remained upstairs in a high-security lab
during the afternoon pageantry. They live in flat
plastic dishes, within warm incubators where they
eat nutrient-rich broth -- and multiply by the
"They are very, very, very precious," said research
manager Vittorio Sebastiano, who is responsible for
the well-being of the 10 million to 100 million cells,
a diverse collection of both innocents and killers.
Many are derived from donated embryos; others
come from tissues of sick or dying patients.
He handles each dish carefully, and only briefly,
wearing plastic gloves to
avoid contamination. He monitors their health by
the color of the pH-sensitive broth, which shifts
from pink to purple or yellow with any change in the
Until recently, these cells were scattered in
individual labs, some off campus.
To keep them undisturbed and centrally located
during the chaos of construction and lab relocation,
Stanford collected the cells and put them together in
one small room, which was completed early, at the
new site. The dozens of dishes were loaded into
Styrofoam boxes -- kept warm by bottles of heated
water -- then quickly driven across campus and
moved to the new incubators.
Meanwhile, lab equipment -- ranging from pipettes
to centrifuges -- has been shipped to the new site.
The Lokey Building's 200,000 square feet of lab
space will serve 500 people and 33 different
Bringing all the researchers under one roof will
make it easier for them to collaborate while sharing
expensive equipment and technical support.
Located so close to Stanford Hospital, doctors can
treat patients and then walk to their labs within
minutes. The new building also offers 60 temporary
"hotel" rooms for researchers from as far away as
Germany and Singapore, contributing valuable
cross-pollination of ideas.
"All the real experts in California in stem cell
biology are right here, together, in this building,"
said Sebastiano, a developmental biologist.
Meanwhile, scientists outside California endure a
legal roller coaster, as a lawsuit challenging federal
funding of this research wends its way through the
judicial system. At stake are an estimated 1,300
jobs, as well as more than $200 million in grants
from the National Institutes of Health that support
more than 200 projects.
The study of embryonic stem cells has been subject
to religious objections and was limited for years by
the Bush administration. The Obama administration
lifted the limits, but a lawsuit has left the field more
restricted than ever. In August, Chief Judge Royce C.
Lamberth, of Federal District Court for the District of
Columbia, issued an injunction blocking research.
The ruling is now being appealed.
The Stanford effort, in contrast, is supported by $44
million in state funding from the California Institute
for Regenerative Medicine, created by voter approval
of Proposition 71 in 2004. An additional $75
million was donated by Stanford alumnus Lorry I.
Lokey, founder of Business Wire. The remainder of
the $200 million budget was raised through private
donations and university resources.
Scientists there also teach. Already 100 students,
postdoctoral fellows, physicians and researchers --
from campuses including San Jose State, UC Santa
Cruz and UCLA -- have learned how to derive and
care for stem cells.
The new facility will expand this training program
-- and perhaps offer the first Ph.D. program in cell
biology in the country.
"It's brilliant," said Sebastiano. "It's not a matter of
research. It's a matter of how to pass the knowledge
of this research to a new generation of scientists."
Throughout the turmoil, the cells continue to grow.
Some of the embryo-derived cells have matured into
tiny heart cells, and beat in unison. Scientists hope
to build tissue to patch up damaged hearts, create
insulin-producing cells for diabetics or heal the
damaged spinal columns of quadriplegics.
Other cells do not come from embryos -- they are
mature cells donated by patients.
Ravi Dasgupta became the first person ever to receive a stem cell transplant.
Some cause cystic fibrosis; others, sickle cell
disease. One dish holds skin cells from patients
with epidermolysis bullosa, a rare and life-
threatening blistering disease of the skin.
In the future, as the Lokey building fills, they will be
joined by legions of others, causing diseases as
diverse as cancer to Parkinson's disease -- a virtual
Noah's Ark of cell samples.
Lokey, a jovial 83-year-old, said he was excited by
the potential of stem cells to improve health and
"This life," he told the crowd, "is too rewarding, and
good, to leave early."
There are many dedicated to advancing hope for cures. We should not despair about the present political morass . We shall overcome.