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Our research: key investments

Institutes, units & centres

The MRC has several institutes, units and centres that are focused on stem cell research:

Strategic investments

Our strategic investments support the characterisation and supply of human stem cell lines and address key knowledge gaps in realising the full potential of regenerative medicine.

Grant awards

Our investments in regenerative medicine and stem cells are broad, and can be found on the Gateway to Research.

Some examples are:

Professor Austin Smith, University of Cambridge, Capture of human ground state pluripotent stem cells, £2.4million. (MRC grant reference: G1001028)

  • Pluripotency is the keystone of mammalian embryonic development and of embryonic stem (ES) cell biology. This research programme is centred on characterising the emergence and progression of pluripotency in the embryo and understanding how and in what form(s) pluripotent stem cells may be sustained ex vivo. Producing well-characterised stable human pluripotent stem cells would provide a standardised and robust platform that will facilitate biomedical exploitation in disease modelling, drug development, toxicology, and cell replacement therapy.
  • Austin is Director of the Wellcome Trust-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute.

Professor Alexander Medvinsky, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Analysis of mechanisms of early haematopoietic stem cell development controlled by FLK1/SCL regulatory network, £1.2m. (MRC grant reference G0900962/1)

  • The adult haematopoietic system is maintained by haematopoietic stem cells, a rare population of cells capable of self-renewing and making all the different types of blood cell. This programme seeks to understand how networks of genes control their development. The knowledge obtained through this study will potentially be useful for development of clinically relevant protocols for controlled generation of HSCs from embryonic stem (ES) and induced pluripotent (iPS) cells. These may then be used for example in similar ways to current bone marrow transplants which are in short supply.
  • Alexander is a theme leader in the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine.

Professor Robin Ali, University College London, Clinical trial of gene therapy for the treatment of achromatopsia, £2.2m. (MRC grant reference: MR/K025589/1)

  • Achromatopsia (ACHM) is a severe inherited retinal disorder, characterised by the absence of daylight vision from birth, photophobia and a slowly progressing loss of cone photoreceptors. So far no successful treatments exist for this disease. This project will produce a human gene therapy vector leading to a clinical trial and pave the way for the future development of gene therapy for many other inherited retinal dystrophies.
  • A profile of Robin and his work can be found in the regenerative medicine and stem cells spotlight.

Professor Paresh Vyas, MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, University of Oxford, Development of Therapeutic Antibodies Targeting Human Acute Myeloid Leukaemia Stem Cells, £2m. (MRC grant reference: G1000729/1)

  • Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is an aggressive malignancy of the bone marrow with strong evidence for the critical involvement of self-renewing leukaemia stem cells (LSC) in disease pathogenesis. AML LSC must be eradicated to achieve cure, yet these cells are resistant to standard chemotherapy and radiation treatments. This programme is to develop novel therapeutic antibodies directed against cell surface antigens preferentially expressed on clinically relevant AML stem cells to eliminate them.
  • This project was jointly funded in partnership with the Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
  • Paresh is a Programme Leader in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, University of Oxford.

Professor Martin Birchall, University College London, RegenVOX: phase I/II clinical trial of stem cell based tissue engineered laryngeal implants, £2.8m. (MRC Grant reference: MR/K026453/1)

  • The larynx protects the airway during swallowing, regulates breathing, and permits voice: all fundamental human functions. Over 2000 UK patients lose laryngeal function due to trauma or cancer annually and need to spend a lot of time at or in hospitals. This project seeks to deliver a laryngeal reconstruction product made from patient's own stem cells and a laryngeal scaffold for routine NHS use, resulting in improved quality of life for patients and carers. This will be amongst the first stem-cell based organ replacements to enter clinical trials.
  • A profile of Martin and his work can be found in the regenerative medicine and stem cells spotlight page.