The UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) has given £1.5 million worth of funding for a new stem cell centre, which will conduct research into developing treatments for diabetes and brain diseases, including Parkinson's. The news follows an announcement made earlier this month that stem cell scientists in Britain would receive a £16.5 million cash input from the government-backed UK research councils, and the establishment, in May, of the world's first national stem cell bank. The new £16 million MRC Centre for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine will be based at Cambridge University, and is co-funded by the university and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).
The new stem cell centre, which is eventually expected to employ around 150 scientists, will initially focus on basic research into understanding the genetic and cellular mechanisms of stem cells, including the ability they have for self-renewal and to develop into any kind of body tissue. Because stem cells have these qualities, it is thought that they could be used to repair or replace damaged or diseased tissues, offering hope for the treatment or cure of a number of diseases and injuries. It is hoped that the research undertaken at the Cambridge centre will eventually lead to the development of clinical treatments, primarily for diabetes and Parkinson's disease. To do so, it will use automated machines to turn stem cells into insulin-producing pancreatic cells. and dopamine-producing nerve cells.
Professor Roger Pederson, director of the new MRC centre, said that the funding 'comes at a critical juncture in the development of the stem cell field, as the UK builds strength and momentum to take the lead in the international stem cell effort'. Pederson once worked on stem cells in the US, but moved to the UK in 2001 because of 'political uncertainty' in the US about the future of stem cell research, and the more 'permissive' regulation in the UK. Just after Pederson's announced departure, on 9 August 2001, President Bush announced that federal funding for stem cell research in the US would only be available for researchers using stem cell lines already in existence by that date.
Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of the MRC, said that the council was 'delighted' to fund the new centre, because 'stem cell science is at the cutting edge of medical research and offers enormous hope for the future treatment and cure of many life-threatening illnesses'. 'We are intent upon starting human trials at the earliest possible date. This requires that we understand the basic properties of stem cells and that is the purpose of this programme', said Pedersen. 'But', he added, 'we expect to be preparing patient's therapies within five years'.