Stem cells respond to signals in their immediate surroundings. The surrounding area, also referred to as 'the niche', has a profound influence on the behaviour of stem cells. By understanding more about how the niche 'talks' to stem cells in normal tissue, scientists hope to influence the niche with the aim to ‘instruct’ stem cells to regenerate damaged tissues. This would help them devise ways to stimulate the body’s own repair processes with drugs or improve the function of transplanted cells in conditions such as liver disease, where the scarred liver is unable to repair itself sufficiently.
The £4.5M research project, which will start later this year, will be carried out in collaboration with the University of Manchester, Imperial College London, University of Bristol, King’s College London, University of Strathclyde, Keele University and the University of Cambridge.
The funding was awarded through the first stage of the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (UKRMP), which is jointly funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Regenerative medicine is a relatively new field of science which uses a range of biological tools to repair or replace damaged tissue. Though there have been many advances in laboratory studies of stem cells and other regenerative approaches, to date relatively few therapies have made it to human trials. This is largely because cell-based therapies are far more complex than traditional small molecule drugs, and require further research and new approaches to make sure they are safe, effective and can be produced in the volumes required to treat large numbers of patients.
Prof Stuart Forbes commented: “Developing regenerative medicine is a grand challenge that requires collaboration between biologists, chemists, clinicians and engineers. I believe that this network of researchers is ideally placed to meet this important challenge.”
Researchers in the network include:
- Prof Charles ffrench-Constant – CRM, University of Edinburgh
- Prof Bruno Peault – CRM and Centre for Cardiovascular Science, University of Edinburgh
- Prof Mark Bradley - School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh
- Dr Anna Williams – CRM, University of Edinburgh
- Dr Ludovic Vallier - Wellcome Trust - MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, University of Cambridge
- Dr David Hay – CRM and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Science, University of Edinburgh
- Prof Cay Kielty - Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester
- Prof Sue Kimber - Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester
- Prof Molly Stevens - Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Imperial College London
- Prof Anthony Hollander – Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Bristol
- Prof Fiona Watt - Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, King's College London
- Prof Nicholas Tomkinson, Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry, University of Strathclyde
- Prof Alicia El-Haj - Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine, Keele University
In detail, the research network aims to: