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Stem Cell Center Captures the Pulse of Research
Maybe the magic being done at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute springs from the location, high on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean where sea breezes sweep the campus. Maybe it comes from the unusual collection of international scientists, each renown in their fields, or from the hybrid model of the institute itself -- an independent lab for ideas, collaborating with but not tied to any particular learning institute, that works closely with leading edge biotechnology companies.
But wherever it springs from, the magic pulses through laboratories. Here, scientists coax skin cells into becoming beating cardiac cells, teach stem cells to repair spinal and central nervous system damage in rats, and study the beating hearts of fruit flies to understand and cure the flaws in the human heart that cause apparently healthy humans to fall down dead.
"If you can think of a disease, someone here is working on an action at the core of it," said Ann Carollo, Senior Vice President, External Relations of the institute. Carollo took participants from The Atlantic Meets the Pacific forum on a tour Monday afternoon of the newest ideas and applications at the far-ahead research institute in La Jolla, Calif., where the ideas are more than 10 years from entering the marketplace.
"This is a science hotel, an especially good environment for scientists to come and work on their ideas," Carollo said. "If they have a fascinating idea, they can follow it here."
At the heart of the institute, basic sciences rule, but the mission is to connect what scientists discover with what can be done to help people live longer, healthier lives.
In one area, a scientist leads a team that studies how about 300,000 of the 9 million known pharmaceutical and chemical compounds can be applied in new ways against old enemies. For example, a compound already used in a cancer-fighting drug has shown early indications that it might be effective combatting muscular dystrophy.
"How does the disease work? We don't know," says Dr. Michael Jackson, Vice President of Drug Discovery. "It's a cancer drug and we don't understand how it works (when it fights cancer.) But it did this (improvement in MD-diseased cells) once in our lab."
The company that makes the drug is about to start clinical trials to see whether it consistently treats MD and if it can be made safe and effective, he said.