Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council invest £13 million to create national stem cell resource

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The Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council have announced a £12.75 million initiative to create a catalogue of high-quality adult stem cells known as “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPS cells).

The initiative will provide a knowledge base to support the use of such cells in studying the effects of our genes on health and disease. It will also lay the foundations to create a new iPS cell bank, providing a world-class resource for UK researchers.

iPS cells are derived from ordinary cells of the adult body by effectively winding the clock back and reprogramming them to become stem cells. They have the potential to develop into a wide range of specialised cell types and so are particularly useful for studying the mechanisms of disease and the impact of genetic variation on cell behaviour.

The Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Initiative will generate iPS cells from healthy volunteers and patient groups. Using state-of-the-art techniques, researchers will conduct extensive genetic analysis on these cells. They will also describe how the cells respond to specific external stimuli and develop into specialised cell types.

The resulting cell collection and dataset will be the UK’s most comprehensive resource for investigating how genetic variation impacts cell behaviour and how diseases linked to a specific genetic defect can result in a broad spectrum of clinical abnormalities. The project will be led by King’s College London and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Professor Fiona Watt of King’s College London said: “The Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Initiative brings together world-leading expertise in clinical genetics, stem cell biology and genomic technologies.

“We believe that this research will drive forward the translation of basic research into improved diagnosis and treatment of disease.

“At King’s, we also hope this will enable us to open a ‘Stem Cell Hotel’, providing a platform for collaborative experiments between clinician scientists with in-depth knowledge of specific diseases and cell biologists who have the tools to obtain quantitative readouts of cell behaviour.”

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC, said: “Induced pluripotent stem cells hold enormous potential to help us understand and treat human disease, but currently the application of iPS cell technology is limited by gaps in our knowledge regarding their biological properties and how we can best manipulate them to accurately model human disease.

“By investing in a UK-wide initiative in iPS cell technology, we hope to propel UK researchers to the forefront of this rapidly evolving field and provide an invaluable stock of high-quality cell lines for use by academia and industry alike.”

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