Founding Director's Message

Human embryonic stem cells cultured on a Nipaam hydrogel artificial extracellular matrix. These hydrogels can be modified to alter the mechanical and chemical properties of the extracellular matrix, affecting cell behavior in vitro and tissue development in vivo. Courtesy of Kevin Healy.

In 1998 James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin derived the first human embryonic stem cell line, ushering in a new era in the study of human developmental biology. The opportunity to expand our understanding of human development, with the potential application to human health has stimulated a surge of interest in the scientific, ethical and legal implications of research on human embryonic stem cells. Progress had been slowed by uncertainty in federal government investment in this research area. Fortunately, the people of California rose to the challenge and approved a bond initiative, Proposition 71. This legislation authorized the allocation of three billion dollars to support stem cell research and the development of stem cell-based therapies here in California, the birthplace of the biotechnology revolution.

In November 2004, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau asked me to organize a campus-wide effort to crystallize work already underway in the engineering, biology, social science, humanities and law faculties. A diverse group of thirty faculty members contributed to planning sessions to develop a stem cell center organized along several themes of science, law and bioethics. To provide a clinical context for our efforts, we joined forces with the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), a national leader in cord blood stem cell research and transplantation for treatment of genetic and malignant blood disorders. Dr. Bertram Lubin, President of the Children’s Hospital and Research Center, Oakland, served as founding Clinical Research Director of the newly formed Berkeley Stem Cell Center.

The Berkeley Stem Cell Center is organized around several multidisciplinary research interest groups. Faculty from the Departments of Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering recently relocated to the new Stanley Hall to form the Tissue Engineering Group. The Hematopoietic Stem Cell Group is centered at CHORI and the Life Sciences Addition. Additional groups will coalesce within the new CIRM Center of Excellence upon completion of the campus' Li Ka-Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences. These research activities are supported by individual grants from the National Institutes of Health and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), biomedical research foundations, a training grant from CIRM, and private philanthropic donations.

Our expanding interdisciplinary program welcomes your interest and participation.

Randy Schekman
Founding Director