IRVINE, Calif. — New money flowing into the University of California, Irvine will further entrench the school as a premier hub for stem cell research in neurology.

The $8 million donation comes as the state injects hundreds of millions a year into stem cell research. The university will receive the money over five years from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

“It’s absolutely a game changer. Not just for us, but for all of California,” said UCI professor Dr. Daniela Bota, director of the school’s Alpha Clinic at the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center.

The money is part of ongoing, government-funded stem cell research as public money has become more involved in using the technology to find medical solutions.

The New York State Stem Cell Science program elevated the state into a leader in regenerative research over the past decade. That money ended in the 2022 budget, worrying researchers in that state that progress could slow or end.

California’s program, by comparison, is enjoying a recent surge in public spending, replenishing an initial $3 billion in 2004 to start CIRM. In 2020, voters passed $5.5 billion in funding for the state-run CIRM, which has been awarding money to universities like UCI to push forward research.

The program could cost taxpayers upwards of $7.8 billion, with $1.5 billion set aside for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and stroke research. 

CIRM receives about $260 million, enough for it to furnish schools like UCI with so much money that the school can turn around and fund its own network.

Bota called it a “micro network,” which will allow the university to train other researchers.

One school is the University of California, Riverside.

“We’re going to help them train their faculty and staff and add infrastructure, so they can start to offer these kinds of clinical trials,” she said.

The money also allows the university to invest in policy staff who can help draft documents describing their research for Food and Drug Administration review and future clinical trials. Previously, the school typically needed to partner with a drug company.

“Now at UCI, we’ll have the same kind of expertise, so our researchers, if they want to move it through to clinical trials, they can,” she said.