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UK and China award five joint Stem Cell research projects

12 Jan 2015


The UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) have announced five new joint funding awards aimed at addressing key knowledge gaps in stem cell research.

These awards form the second phase of the UK-China Stem Cell Partnership Initiative, which has the aim of improving collaborative links between stem cell scientists in the UK and China. The funded projects will focus upon basic and preclinical research that will underpin the development of novel drug and regenerative medicine based therapies for a range of disorders including heart disease, Motor Neurone Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and stroke, as well as tissue repair for wound healing.

This second phase of the initiative was funded by the Newton UK-China Research and Innovation Partnership Fund, which promotes economic development through research and innovation. A total of nearly £2 million is being provided through the MRC on the UK side, with matching funds provided by NSFC.

This exciting new area of joint research marks an important milestone in UK-China bilateral relations, with the initiative playing a key role in strengthening cooperation between leading UK and Chinese researchers in the field.

Dr Rob Buckle, Director of Science Programmes at the Medical Research Council, said:

“It is gratifying to see how this initiative has developed over the past couple of years such that we are now able to launch five exciting collaborative projects that capitalise on the complementary strengths of the research teams involved from the two countries. We hope that these partnerships will both help progress our ability to harness stem cell biology towards patient benefit, as well as provide a foundation for further joint activity between the UK and China in stem cell research the future”.


Stem cell research has received unprecedented attention over the past decade fuelled by the quest for fundamental knowledge in developmental biology and by clinical expectation as a source of new treatments for as yet untreatable diseases. MRC and NSFC have responded with a strong commitment to facing this challenge by establishing the Stem Cell Partnership Initiative.

The impact of the Stem Cell Partnership Initiative includes:

  • bringing together key researchers from a wide range of stem cell research areas, broadening the variety of techniques and strategies employed and enhancing the potential benefits to be gained by participants
  • promoting the exchange of scientific results, methods and ideas
  • establishing a platform for mutual scientific contact and exchange between UK-China researchers
  • identifying areas of shared interest and providing funding opportunities in order to foster research collaborations

This scheme was launched following the success of the UK-China Stem Cell Partnership Development Initiative, which funded nine pilot awards in 2012


This demonstrated the strength and breadth of stem cell research in both countries, and the potential for establishing fruitful collaborations. More recently, awardees from this first round of funding, along with other UK and Chinese researchers involved in joint research activity, came together at an MRC-NSFC convened workshop in Shanghai in October 2013. This workshop assessed progress to date and explored the opportunities for building on successful collaborations. Details of the workshop can be found here: www.mrc.ac.uk/documents/pdf/nsfc-mrc-stem-cell-research-workshop-report/

The following studies have now been awarded through the second phase of the initiative:

  1. DNA hydroxymethylation, TET enzymes and regulation of stem cell activity during skin regeneration and wound healing
  • Vladimir Botchkarev  (University of Bradford)
  • Xu Guoliang (Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences)
  1. Steroid Receptors as targets for myelin regeneration by endogenous adult neural stem cells
  • Robin Franklin (University of Cambridge)
  • He Cheng (Second Military Medical University)      
  1. Investigating mechanistic causes of C9ORF72-related amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
  • Ke Ning (University of Sheffield)    
  • Xu Jun (Tongji University)
  1. iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes to model oestrogen receptor modulation of stress cardiomyopathy and arrhythmic syndromes
  • Sian Harding   (Imperial College London)   
  • Sun Hong (Xuzhou Medical College)
  1. Epigenetic mechanisms regulating pluripotency from embryonic to adult neurogenesis
  • Francis Szele  (University of Oxford)        
  • Shen Xiaohua (Tsinghua University)

The Newton Fund

The Newton Fund is a new initiative intended to strengthen research and innovation partnerships between the UK and emerging knowledge economies. It was launched by the Chancellor in April 2014, and will deliver £375 million of funding over the course of five years.

The Fund forms part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment which is monitored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). ODA funded activity focuses on outcomes that promote the long-term sustainable growth of countries on the OECD Development Assistance Committee list. Newton Fund countries represent a sub-set of this list. For more information please visit the MRC Newton Fund page.




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