Dr. C.C. King, Associate Research Scientist, in the Pediatric Diabetes Research Center, UC San Diego, has been awarded $1,313,649 to understand the role of microRNAs in the stem cell differentiation process pertaining to insulin-producing cells and possible treatments for type 1 diabetes.
The award was announced by the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee (ICOC) of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state agency created by California voters to pursue the promise of stem cells in science and medicine.
“Basic science has been our strength at UC San Diego because we have dedicated time and energy to developing our expertise in stem cells,” said Larry Goldstein, PhD, director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program. “Through our excellence in scientific research fundamentals, UCSD stem cell researchers are creating the basis for future advances in this exciting field.”
CIRM was designed to fund investigations of basic mechanisms underlying stem cell biology, cellular plasticity and cellular differentiation, or the ability of stem cells to be programmed into different types of cells in the body. According to CIRM, “Studies supported by these awards will form the foundation for future translational and clinical advances, enabling the realization of the full potential of human stem cells and reprogrammed cells for therapies and as tools for biomedical innovation.”
While there are several genetic factors that contribute to stem cell differentiation, microRNAs (single-stranded RNA molecules) play an important role in turning genes on and off throughout the differentiation process. The King Lab seeks to understand how microRNAs may control expression of protein kinases and regulate the formation of the endoderm – an embryonic tissue from which the insulin-producing beta cells originate.
"Our working hypothesis is that microRNAs drive hESC differentiation," remarks Dr. King. "Once we have identified the up- and down-regulated microRNAs at discrete stages of development, we will genetically manipulate levels of critical microRNAs to enhance differentiation."
These research pursuits combined may provide critical insight to the regulatory mechanisms of cell differentiation and create opportunities to better control differentiation of hESCs into insulin-producing cells.
“I am excited about the opportunity CIRM has provided us to explore the role mircoRNAs play in hESC differentiation into endocrine pancreas,” shares Dr. King. “A better understanding of the role microRNAs play in the differentiation of pluripotent hESC into cells of endocrine lineage has the potential to further enhance our ability to generate cells for therapeutic value.”
Written by: Shivani Singh, Sr. Writer, Pediatrics, UC San Diego, Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego