Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine
Stem cells have long been a major research theme within Cambridge, one embraced by researchers across the spectrum of biomedical sciences. The 2007 Nobel Laureate Sir Martin Evans was recognised for his 1981 Cambridge discovery of mouse embryonic stem cells and for demonstrating their potential to form any tissue of the body. The more recent derivation of human embryonic stem cells from in vitro fertilised human eggs has provoked interest in the use of such cells to form specialised tissues with therapeutic potential. This has catalysed the emergence of regenerative medicine as a distinct research field, which proposes to use stem cells to repair tissues damaged by injury or disease. In addition to embryonic stem cells, other types of stem cells are found in adult tissues, where they are responsible for maintaining organ viability. Researchers in the School of Clinical Medicine study pluripotent stem cells as well as stem cells of the skin, blood and brain to determine how these may be used to understand and heal diseases affecting these organ systems. Blood stem cells are targets for genetic lesions that give rise to leukaemia. Studies of leukaemia have led to the concept that many forms of cancer contain their own malignant stem cells. Neurodegenerative disorders form a particular focus with groups studying the cellular and molecular basis of Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis. In sum, the major goal of stem cell research in the School of Clinical Medicine is to understand stem cell biology in order to develop novel approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of degenerative and malignant diseases.
As would be expected from such broad medical relevance, stem cell research is being pursued in multidisciplinary collaborations between researchers across the University of Cambridge, including those located in the Anne McLaren Laboratory for Regenerative Medicine, the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research, the Wellcome Trust Gurdon Institute, the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute, the Department of Veterinary Medicine, as well as in several other departments within the School of the Biological Sciences and the School of Clinical Medicine. These collaborations are fostered by the Cambridge Stem Cell Initiative, which brings together leading investigators with interests in stem cells and affiliated disciplines from across the entire University. The Initiative is the primary conduit for engagement between basic and clinical scientists aimed at biomedical translation of stem cell and regenerative medicine research. Members of the Initiative attend monthly meetings of the Cambridge Stem Cell Club and participate in seminars of interest to all. A four year integrated Ph.D programme in stem cell research has been established and there are weekly seminar programmes designed to attract audiences from throughout Cambridge and the surrounding stem cell research community, including links to the East of England Stem Cell Network and the UK National Stem Cell Network, as well as researchers abroad.