Stem cell “Collaboratory” opens in La Jolla

By Heather Buschman, Ph.D.
December 2, 2011

“Patient advocates: this is our day!” Lorraine Stiehl shouted, rallying the crowed assembled on November 29 to witness the grand opening of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, a new 150,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art research facility located in the Torrey Pines Mesa life science research cluster in La Jolla, a northern coastal area of San Diego, Calif.

Ms. Stiehl is a patient advocate coordinator for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the $3 billion stem cell agency created after California voters approved ballot measure Prop 71 in 2004. CIRM, and patient advocates like Ms. Stiehl, have played a huge role in bringing the Sanford Consortium to fruition. CIRM contributed $43 million to the project and patients are the reason that the consortium’s scientists are doing what they do—working to advance our understanding of stem cell biology and ultimately find new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and many other conditions.

“You see 150,00 square feet of new research space,” Ms. Stiehl continued. “We see 150,000 square feet of hope, 150,000 square feet of empowerment.”

The Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine

Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine: 150,000 square feet of research space, hope, and empowerment

The Sanford Consortium is not a new stand-alone research institution—it’s a “Collaboratory.” Here, scientists from five local research institutes—Sanford-Burnham, UC San Diego, The Scripps Research Institute, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology—will relocate their laboratories for one purpose: to combine the talent and technology of these great research institutions to advance stem cell research and the field of regenerative medicine. The building contains open lab space, glass walls, high-tech whiteboards you can write on with a finger and use to send email, a large auditorium, and inviting common areas—all specifically designed to spark socialization and spontaneous opportunities for collaboration.

As the Sanford Consortium’s mantra says, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

The Sanford Consortium is the result of a community-wide effort. It all began in 2006, when Sanford-Burnham, UC San Diego, The Scripps Research Institute, and the Salk Institute formed what was then known as the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. In 2008, the dream was further advanced by a generous gift of $30 million from philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. (Like Sanford-Burnham, the consortium now bears his name.)

In addition to Mr. Sanford and the heads of each participating institution, community leaders instrumental in making the Sanford Consortium a reality include Malin Burnham, Edward Holmes, Irwin Jacobs, and John Moores, all of whom now serve on the consortium’s board of directors.

Grand opening event

T. Denny Sanford, businessman, philanthropist, and Sanford Consortium benefactor

Richard C. Atkinson, president emeritus of the University of California, gave the keynote address at the Sanford Consortium’s grand opening. The event also featured San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a big supporter of local research and innovation, who said, “No other city has this formula for success done better than San Diego. Congratulations on this milestone—I know there are many more to come.”

Mr. Sanford closed the ceremony by echoing the mayor’s sentiments. “There is no better investment than basic research in life sciences… and no better place than here in San Diego, on the Mesa,” he said. “Each of the five institutions involved already has a stellar record of accomplishments. I am honored to have my name on this organization.”

With that, the ribbon was cut and the one-of-a-kind Collaboratory was open for business.

The science of the Sanford Consortium

Two of Sanford-Burnham’s top stem cell researchers will be relocating their labs to the Sanford Consortium in the next few months—Dr. Evan Snyder, professor and director of the Stem Cells and Regenerative Biology Program, and Dr. Robert Wechsler-Reya, professor and director of the Tumor Development Program.

“Collaboratory” space

Dr. Snyder is regarded as one of the fathers of the stem cell field, particularly with regard to applying stem cells to regenerate and repair diseased and damaged tissue. He was among the first to identify neural stem cells and generated the first transplantable human neural stem cells. He revealed the concept of stem cell pathotropism (the ability of stem cells to home in on injured or diseased regions of the brain), was the first to demonstrate their ability to deliver therapeutic genes and engage in cell replacement, and discovered that stem cells can intervene to promote cellular survival. (Read more blog posts about Dr. Snyder and his research here.)

The Wechsler-Reya lab was the first to identify a new type of stem cell that, when functioning normally, develops into many different cell types in the cerebellum. But if this cell acquires certain mutations, it can also give rise to medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain cancer in children. Dr. Wechsler-Reya’s team is now trying to better understand what drives medulloblastoma tumors and they are creating stem cell-based models that can be used to test new drugs that target the disease. (Read more blog posts about Dr. Wechsler-Reya and his research here.)


Read news coverage of the Sanford Consortium opening:
Stem cell science gets new home in La Jolla – San Diego Union-Tribune
La Jolla Stem Cell Laboratory Replaced With ‘Collaboratory’ – KPBS
San Diego area gets stem cell “Collaboratory” – CIRM Research Results (blog)
Sanford Consortium celebrates opening of stem cell research ‘Collaboratory’La Jolla Light 

Click here to see all blog posts about Sanford-Burnham’s stem cell research.



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Heather Buschman, Ph.D.

Heather was an SBP Communications staff member.


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