Irvine, Calif., July 14, 2006 -- Peter Jackson, Academy Award-winning director of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and writer/producer Fran Walsh, have donated $311,000 to UC Irvine to fund the work of up-and-coming stem cell scientists. The funds will by directed by Hans Keirstead, associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology and a pioneer in the use of human embryonic stem cells in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.
The donation will establish the Bill and Joan Jackson Scholars Fund, named after Jackson's parents, and support the stem cell research of two students for four years each. In recent years, both Jackson and Walsh have lost loved ones to Parkinson's disease and cancer, which in turn sparked their interest in stem cell research and the hope it offers for treating and ultimately curing such diseases.
"This is an incredibly exciting time in medicine," Jackson said. "Stem cell therapy has the potential to treat a multitude of diseases and illnesses, which up until now have been labeled 'incurable.' It has the capacity to exponentially improve the quality of life for those who currently suffer from spinal cord injury, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and many other debilitating medical conditions.
"I believe continuing advances in stem cell medicine will change all of our lives for the better," he added. "Fran and I are very happy to offer whatever assistance we can to help Dr. Keirstead progress his research."
Jackson is one of Hollywood's most well-known and respected directors. A native New Zealander, his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy earned 17 Academy Awards combined, which included three for Jackson and three for Walsh. They also collaborated on the remake of "King Kong" that was released in 2005. Their next project is an adaptation of UCI alumna Alice Sebold's novel "The Lovely Bones."
"I am immensely grateful to Peter and Fran for their support of this important research," Keirstead said. "Current federal restrictions on stem cell research mean that few labs work with human embryonic stem cells, so young researchers have few choices for their education and postdoctoral research. The few labs that do work with these cells have to turn down scores of students due to the scarcity of funding, which is having a devastating effect on the future of stem cell research. Peter and Fran's donation helps to address this crucial need."
Keirstead studies whether stem cells can restore some movement in paralyzed rodents, shedding light on possible treatments for the 500,000 Americans with spinal cord-related disabilities. In 2005, he used a treatment derived from human embryonic stem cells to improve mobility in rats with spinal cord injuries. Last month, he announced that he will generate up to five new human embryonic stem cell lines to be used for research.
UCI continues its development as one of the premier centers for stem cell research in California. In addition to spinal cord injury, areas of interest for this research include diseases such as Parkinson's and autism. The university plans to construct a Stem Cell Research Center facility aimed at propelling stem cell technology from the research lab to the clinic.
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