Six San Diego scientists have been tapped to get more than $13 million in funding from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state’s stem cell agency. The funds will support projects ranging from the development of a treatment for cancer to research into placenta-based stem cell therapies.

The so-called New Faculty Grants are part of a $59-million round of funding distributed to 23 scientists, according to an agency release. With intense competition for scarce federal funding for research, the institute’s grants aim to support promising scientists in the early stages of their careers, including researchers new to the field of stem cells. It’s estimated that researchers are usually in their 40s before receiving their first major federal grant.

The state grants will be paid out over five years, covering salary and research expenses, and range from $1.7 million to more than $3 million. Five grants were awarded to University of San Diego, California, researchers and one to a scientist from San Diego State University.

Some of the recipients include:

Catriona Jamieson, director for stem cell research at Moores UCSD Cancer Center, will receive $3.07 million. Jamieson will use the funding for research into myeloproliferative disorders — or MPDs — which cause people to make too many blood cells because of a mutation in their stem cells. The therapy is being tested in several clinical trials around the country.

Mana Parast, an assistant professor in UCSD School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology, will receive $3.08 million for research that targets the placenta for stem cell therapy.

Benjamin Yu, an assistant professor in the Division of Dermatology in the UCSD School of Medicine, will receive $3.06 million. Yu’s research centers on figuring out why adult stem cells that are already present in human bodies lie dormant and developing an approach to control their proliferation.

Shyni Varghese, an assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering in the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering, will receive $2.3 million to investigate embryonic stem cell-based transplantation therapy for treating muscle wasting, focusing on a common form of the disorder that causes progressive skeletal muscle degeneration in children.

Bing Ren, an associate member of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and associate professor in the UCSD’s Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, will receive $1.73 million to improve the understanding of the processes that control cells’ ability to transform into many different cell types.

Ricardo Zayas, an assistant professor of biology at San Diego State University, will receive $1.7 million to analyze how genes are involved in regeneration and neurogenesis — the creation of new nerve cells from stem cells.


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