Two of the UK’s largest funders of medical research are to invest £8 million in a new world-leading centre for stem cell biology and medicine. The Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Cambridge Stem Cell Institute will advance our understanding of stem cells and their potential to treat a range of life-threatening conditions that currently have no effective cures.
Stem cells can renew themselves almost indefinitely and can develop into any of the cell types in the body. They are an invaluable tool for scientists studying the mechanisms of human disease and could be used as an alternative to animal models by pharmaceutical companies developing new drugs. They also show great promise as potential treatments for devastating conditions such as liver disease, diabetes, blindness and spinal cord injury and neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
The new Institute, at the University of Cambridge, will build on existing investment by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Wellcome Trust, uniting 30 leading research teams with expertise across the three main types of stem cell: embryonic, adult and induced pluripotent cells.
Research scientists will work alongside technology specialists and doctors to develop new therapeutic approaches underpinned by a strong base of fundamental stem cell biology. Located in Cambridge, the Institute is near the largest cluster of biotechnology companies in Europe, allowing unrivalled opportunities for industry collaboration.
Professor Austin Smith, Director of the new Institute, said: “The Wellcome Trust-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute will be an invigorating environment for cross-fertilisation between fundamental and translational researchers. Our aim is to close the knowledge gap and drive stem cell research forward towards clinical applications. The world-class facilities will attract the best international talent from the fields of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine to pursue this goal.”
Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “This strategic collaboration between the UK’s two largest funders of medical research has united teams from across Cambridge that work across all types of stem cell research and will enable its director, Austin Smith, to attract outstanding researchers in the field. The new institute will play a vital part in accelerating our understanding health and disease and in the development of new treatments and will cement the UK’s position as a world leader in stem cell research.”
Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC, said: “The UK is currently one of the best places in the world to do stem cell research, and we want to make sure that continues to be the case now and for the next generation of scientists. By joining forces with the Wellcome Trust to invest strategically in all areas of stem cell science, embracing both adult and embryonic stem cells, we will create a competitive and attractive environment for future commercial investment in regenerative medicine.”
It is intended that the Institute will eventually be housed in a purpose-built 8000-m2 facility to be constructed on the Cambridge Biomedical Research Campus. Key areas of research at the Institute include pluripotency, haematopoiesis, epithelial tissues, and neural and cardiovascular stem cells.
Professor Sir Patrick Sissons, Regius Professor of Physic and Head of the School of Clinical Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said: “This joint funding initiative from the Wellcome Trust and MRC gives us the opportunity to link Cambridge’s great strengths in stem cell biology with our strengths in translational clinical research, and thus to give new insights into disease mechanisms – and ultimately to develop new therapies.
“In association with the initiative, we all look forward to the future co-location of stem cell biology and medicine in the new building planned for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.”