9-Sep-2013

Three UK research councils to invest £25m in regenerative medicine

Three UK Research Councils are to invest £25m in research and equipment to support the development of regenerative medicine therapies for a range of applications, including Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, wound and musculoskeletal repair, eye disorders and deafness.

Of the total, £4.5m will set up a new ‘Hub’ for pluripotent stem cell research as part of the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (UKRMP), funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC). The Hub will work with the other strands of the UKRMP to develop new regenerative treatments from discoveries made in the lab.

The Hub will be led by the Universities of Sheffield, Loughborough and Cambridge and builds on existing capabilities within MRC and EPSRC Centres and the UK Stem Cell Bank. It will also collaborate with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Babraham Institute and complement the work of the existing UKRMP research Hubs.

A further £20m of funding from the MRC will provide facilities and equipment to support the work of the UKRMP and the wider regenerative medicine research community.

The Hub aims to lay the initial foundations for scaling up the production of cell-based therapies to an industrial scale

Experimental regenerative therapies currently involve the use of relatively small numbers of cells, usually prepared by laboratory researchers. To be able to treat the thousands of patients who could benefit from regenerative medicine, scientists ultimately need to be able to scale-up these efforts to manufacture reliably and repeatedly thousands of millions of cells under uniform and controlled conditions.

The Hub aims to lay the initial foundations for scaling up the production of cell-based therapies to an industrial scale and develop a set of protocols for manufacturing them.

It will also tackle key challenges such as:

  • Making sure cells do not undergo unwanted genetic changes or become contaminated with external agents that may change the way they work.
  • Improving differentiation so that scientists can reliably turn ‘blank’ (pluripotent) cells into the type of cell they want, when they want.
  • Ensuring the right quality control systems are in place so that manufactured cell therapies are safe and suitable for use in human treatments.

Initially the Hub will focus on two disease areas – Parkinson’s disease and deafness – where efforts to develop cell therapies are already underway. The researchers will work closely with commercial companies from the start to ensure that the procedures they develop are commercially viable.

Professor Peter Andrews, a stem cell biologist from the Centre for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Sheffield, who will lead the Hub, said: 'Human trials for regenerative therapies based on stem cells are now on the horizon for some conditions, including several forms of blindness. But we’re still a long way off from being able to produce cell therapies for lots of different disease at an industrial scale. The pluripotency hub brings together for the first time in the UK, researchers with the range of expertise necessary to develop the processes needed to take these cells from laboratory-based research to the commercial manufacture of safe, effective and reproducible products for use in regenerative medicine.'

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