Stem cell scientists in Britain will receive a £16.5 million cash boost, UK research councils announced last week. Universities across the country will receive a total of 57 different grants, with the aim of making the UK a world leader in stem cell research. Sheffield University scientists will get the most money, receiving eight different grants that total £2.6 million, while Cambridge University will receive seven grants totalling £2.24 million.
The new funding has been awarded as part of the grants allocated to the UK Research Councils through the 2002 Government Spending Review. Colin Blakemore, speaking on behalf of Research Councils UK, welcomed the funds, saying: 'It would be wrong to raise expectations of immediate benefits for human patients, but if we can harness the potential of these incredible cells, we might be standing at the threshold of one of the greatest contributions science has made to human health'. He added that the grants would allow scientists to treat diseases 'from cancer to Parkinson's and from diabetes to heart disease'.
Stem cells are the body's 'master cells', which can renew themselves and grow into a range of other, more specialised types of cell. UK researchers are studying stem cells from adult tissues, as well as those derived from early human embryos. Some of the money will go to projects aiming to develop stem cell treatments for particular diseases, while other funding will be pumped into work aiming to understand more about the basic biology of these versatile cells. A Human Embryonic Stem Cell Resource Centre at Sheffield University will also receive funds. The centre, lead by Professor Peter Andrews, will provide expertise, training, resources and facilities for UK stem cell researchers.
The grants follow the recent opening of the world's first national stem cell bank, which will be housed at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control at Potter's Bar, Hertfordshire, in the UK. Blakemore says that compared to other areas of science, 'this is one where the UK has an edge because of our relatively compliant legislative framework'. In the US, government-funded embryo stem cell researchers are only allowed to work on cell-lines already in existence on 9 August 2001. But Blakemore thinks this situation might soon change: 'I would not be surprised if the US reassesses its position when progress has been demonstrated with embryonic stem cells', he told the Scientist magazine.