Stanford University broke ground Monday on a 200,000-square-foot, $200 million building that will become the nation's largest stem cell research facility.

When it opens in 2010, the Lorry I. Lokey Stem Cell Research Building will house 600 scientists who specialize in the study of stem cells, which may hold the key to treating diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Parkinson's. It will serve as a hub for work that is now spread across campus, partly due to federal restrictions on the promising but controversial subfield of human embryonic stem cell research.

"The Lokey Building will have a transforming impact on stem cell biology and regenerative medicine," predicted Philip Pizzo, dean of the School of Medicine.

The center is one of several that will be erected in California with the help of grant money from a 2004 state proposition authorizing $3 billion for stem cell research in the state. A 2001 Bush administration policy restricts research on new lines of embryonic stem cells in facilities that use federal funding, citing moral qualms with the destruction of human embryos.

Stanford this year received the largest of the state's stem cell building grants, $43.5 million. Earlier this month, philanthropist and Business Wire founder Lorry Lokey pledged another $75 million for the building. The university and other private donors will fund the remainder of the project's cost.

A symposium before Monday's groundbreaking ceremony offered a glimpse into the type of work that the new center will encourage.

Stephen Quake, co-chair of the bioengineering department, described a recent breakthrough in which his team used a non-invasive DNA test to identify prenatal Down syndrome without risking miscarriage. A new microfluidics laboratory at the Lokey Center will facilitate similar research.

He was followed by Renee Reijo Pera, an expert in human embryonic stem cell research. She explained how the inner workings of embryonic stem cells can provide clues into the origin and nature of sporadic diseases such as Parkinson's and diabetes.

The new center, Pera said, will afford scientists "the tools to being to unravel the mysteries of the lineage and how we come to have the different cell types that we have."

Though they're colleagues, Quake and Pera run laboratories on opposite sides of the sprawling Stanford campus. Quake's work is sanctioned by the federal government, while much of Pera's is not.

The Lokey building will put them side by side, Pera said, "sharing equipment, sharing ideas, meeting in the halls and having lunch."

The university has been recruiting stem cell specialists in recent years, including Pera, cancer researcher Michael Clarke and otolaryngologist Stefan Heller, who works with stem cells in the inner ear. It plans to bring on even more once the center opens, Pizzo said.

Irving Weissman, director of Stanford's stem cell institute, said in a statement that the building will encourage researchers to "apply stem cell thinking to different problems, including regeneration, aging and cancer."

Article from the San Jose Mercury News