Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
27 Sep 2018
Regenerative medicine is a fast-moving, interdisciplinary field, looking for ways to repair or replace parts of the body that are diseased or damaged. Now there’s an established and growing UK research community, we’re changing the way we fund this type of research. Two researchers explain why our continued support for this field – from the early discovery stage to translation into the clinic – will help deliver life-changing treatments for currently incurable conditions. [...]
Adult stem cells from the tissue lining the human knee joint, grown in a dish. These cells can repair
damaged cartilage and are being trialled in the clinic. Individual stem cells are labelled with different fluorescent colours. Image credit: Nathan White, University of Aberdeen.
Continue reading: Regenerative medicine: from the lab to the clinic, and back
8 Jun 2016
Professors Irv Weissman and Ravi Majeti at Stanford University and Professor Paresh Vyas at the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit in Oxford, are working on an antibody from the Stanford investigators that enables the immune system to detect and kill cancer cells. They are now testing whether it’s safe and effective for use in people with blood cancer. In this week’s blog they tell us how they collaborated across the Atlantic to get public funding for a project that has led to a spin out with multiple backers and a promising clinical trial.
What if we could make our immune system fight cancer like it fights infection?
These aren’t the only teams in the world grappling with that question but for Professor Irv Weissman and Professor Paresh Vyas, the solution feels tantalisingly close for patients with blood cancer. [...]
Continue reading: Fighting cancer like an infection
25 May 2016
New technology is helping scientists study the secrets of single cells in more detail than ever before. Dr Roy Drissen at the MRC Weatherall Institute for Molecular Medicine tells Sylvie Kruiniger how single cell technology has helped them discover a previously unknown stage in blood cell development which may have implications for the future of leukaemia treatment.
“Before Galileo invented the telescope, we could just see Jupiter. With the telescope, we saw that Jupiter had moons. That’s what single cell technology is doing for biology: where we used to think there was only one type of cell, we can now see several.” [...]
Continue reading: Single cell technology – an eye for detail
7 Apr 2016
A study published today in Stem Cells Translational Medicine shows that microRNAs could be used to treat paracetamol overdose. Lead researcher Dr David Hay from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh spoke to Sylvie Kruiniger about his findings, made possible by growing and testing their own stem cell-derived liver cells.
Why is it important to study paracetamol overdose?
Taken at recommended levels, paracetamol is usually safe, effective and is used widely in adults and children, either alone or in combination with other drugs.
However, it can damage the liver and the risk of liver damage increases with doses over the recommended levels. Each year we see around 200 deaths involving paracetamol (National Office for Statistics).
What happens in your liver when you take paracetamol?
When the liver processes a recommended dose of paracetamol, most of the drug is broken down by acid into water-soluble forms that can be passed in the urine or exported to the bile: this is called the sulfation pathway.
Around five per cent is turned into a toxin called N Acetyl-p-Benzo Quinone Imine (NAPQI). At this low level, the liver can clear the toxin with an antioxidant that reacts with NAPQI so it can be excreted in urine and bile. [...]
Continue reading: Giving the liver a new way to deal with paracetamol overdose
20 Jul 2015
Today researchers at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine announced that they have regrown damaged livers in mice. It’s just one example of scientists growing tiny versions of organs in animals and in the lab to study development and disease, and test potential treatments. Many of these organs also represent the first steps towards growing whole organs – or parts of organs – for transplant. MRC Science Writer Cara Steger rounds up progress.
Why might you want to grow a tiny organ? Small organs, or parts of them, are useful for studying both development and disease, and for toxicity testing or testing new treatments. In some cases, mini organs will be able to replace research using animals.
But they also offer a tantalising glimpse of a world in which we can grow complex solid organs for transplant. These tiny organs – often more like proto-organs with just some of an organ’s functions – are quite literally ‘starting small’, first seeing if it’s even possible.
Here we list eight tiny organs that have been grown so far.
Transplanted hepatic progenitor cells can self-renew (yellow) and differentiate into hepatocytes (green) to repair the damaged liver (Image: Wei-Yu Lu, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, The University of Edinburgh’)
The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine researchers used liver stem cells, called hepatic progenitor cells, to regrow damaged livers in mice. After extracting the stem cells from healthy adult mice and maturing them in the lab, the researchers transplanted the cells into mice with liver failure.
In three months the cells had grown enough to partly restore the structure and function of the animals’ livers, providing hope that this technique could one day replace the need for liver transplants in humans.  [...]
Continue reading: Eight tiny organs grown by scientists
2 Jul 2015
Being able to grow rudimentary brain tissue in the lab means that researchers can study organ development and disease. But how do you go from stem cells to a ‘mini-brain’? Ben Martynoga reports for the Long + Short.
A cross-section of a cerebral organoid or ‘mini-brain’ (Image copyright: IMBA/ Madeline A. Lancaster)
It sounds like witchcraft. Scientists take a sample of your skin, transform the skin cells into stem cells, and from these grow pea-sized blobs of brain. Living, human brain, built from your cells.
Back in 2010, Madeline Lancaster, the inventor of this powerful new procedure, was fresh from her PhD in California, and learning the ropes in a new lab in Vienna. She set out to grow brain cells on the flat bottom of the Petri dish. But many cells refused to stay put: they floated up and massed into small balls. This was a familiar problem, but it piqued Lancaster’s interest.
How big could the balls grow? She encased them in protective jelly and agitated her broth, so nutrients and oxygen could penetrate deeper. Eventually, in 2013, she coaxed them into growing up to several millimetres across.  This was new. [...]
Continue reading: How to grow a ‘brain’
9 Sep 2013
The potential to use stem cells as therapies is one of the most exciting areas of biomedical research. But how do we turn the promise of the lab into reality in the clinic? Prof Peter Andrews, director of a new regenerative medicine research ‘hub’ announced today, explains what lies ahead.
The idea of replacing worn out or diseased tissue with new healthy cells grown from stem cells is an attractive one.
And it’s certainly an idea that captures the imagination. Although we’re never going to transplant brains, the announcement last month that researchers had grown tiny brain-like ‘organoids’ in the lab gained a huge amount of press attention.
But how close are we to a point where having a cell transplant is the same as any other treatment? It’s fair to say that we’re a long way off. I don’t expect cell therapies to be commonplace for at least another 20 years, and probably a lot longer.
But one thing I can see more clearly is what we need to do to get to that point — and it’s a lot of careful, painstaking work in the lab. [...]
Continue reading: From artisan to industrial: getting stem cells ready for the clinic
20 Dec 2012
The Institute of Ophthalmology’s Astrid Limb plans to retire once she’s used stem cells to restore the sight of a glaucoma patient. And she’s not far off, judging by the research she described to Sarah Harrop in her profile taken from our Annual Review 2011/12.
Professor Astrid Limb partly owes her choice of research to a mistake made by a lab technician in 2002. At the time, Astrid’s lab was growing cultures of nerve cells from eyes and brains. But some of the cell culture flasks were mislabelled by the technician and a flask of nerve cells taken from the eye was grown under the wrong conditions.
“When we came to study the cells later, we found that there was one cell line that seemed to be immortal,” explains Astrid. “Then the technician went on holiday and left behind cultures of human eye cells. We discovered that a similar population of human cells, grown under the same conditions, were also becoming immortal.” [...]
Continue reading: Profile: Astrid Limb
9 Oct 2012
In the first of the three highly commended articles for the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2012, Ben Martynoga describes his research looking at how to reprogram brain stem cells and even other types of cells to become new neurons — research that could one day lead to treatments for brain diseases.
Your skull contains one of the most sophisticated computing systems in the universe. Your brain can read and understand the words on this page, it can empathise with other humans, and it is even aware of its own existence. Nothing we have built or discovered comes close to this competence. Yet brilliant as your brain is, it has one fatal flaw: it is terrible at regenerating itself.
Cut your hair and it keeps on growing. Cut your skin and it rapidly heals. But once a brain disease like Alzheimer’s disease sets in and starts to kill off your brain cells, the damage gets progressively worse, with devastating effects. And of course, as our families and communities live longer, age-related dementia and memory loss are ever more common. [...]
Continue reading: The transcription factor: a key to brain repair?
28 Jun 2012
Zebrafish can repair their own hearts (Copyright: Novartis AG)
At an MRC-sponsored session at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June, researchers discussed why scientists are taking lessons from the humble zebrafish when it comes to helping the body heal itself.
Scientists are pretty good at growing cells. They can take stem cells, a kind of cell that has the potential to develop into many — and sometimes any — cell types, and coax them into developing into heart cells, liver cells, retinal cells, nerve cells … the list is long.
The idea is that transplanting these healthy cells into damaged organs could cure disease. There are even attempts to grow entire organs; a new heart grown from a patient’s own cells wouldn’t be rejected so they wouldn’t need immune-suppressing drugs.
But growing heart cells in the lab is a million miles from building an entirely new heart, with its specific and complex structure of muscle and blood vessels. Wouldn’t it be better to fix the old one? [...]
Continue reading: Taking tips from zebrafish