Stem Cell Biology and Medicine
Stem cell biology is one of the fastest growing areas of biomedical research worldwide. Stem cells generate, maintain, and repair tissues. At a fundamental level they present important and fascinating questions around cellular hierarchy, identity, fate and reprogramming. Stem cells also have the potential to be used directly in regenerative medicine to treat devastating conditions affecting various organs and tissues but especially those that have poor regenerative capacity such as the brain and pancreas. On the other hand malfunction of stem cells can lead to disease. This is best exemplified in haematopoiesis where deep characterisation of blood stem cells has led to the appreciation that leukaemias often arise from corrupted stem cells. Finally, in vitro culture of stem cells provides powerful systems for dissecting mechanisms of human disease and offers alternatives to animal models in the development of new drugs.
The University has invested in recruiting outstanding investigators in mammalian stem cell biology at both senior and junior levels, and has designated Stem Cell Research as a Strategic Initiative. Recognising the strength and achievements of Cambridge stem cell science, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council partnered with the University In 2012 to create the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Cambridge Stem Cell Institute (SCI). SCI draws together stem cell research groups in the University into a unified administrative and scientific organisation (www.stemcells.cam). The Institute is jointly supported by the School of Clinical Medicine and the School of the Biological Sciences and encompasses research on human pluripotent stem cells concentrated in the Anne McLaren Laboratory for Regenerative Medicine and haematopoiesis research teams currently based in the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research.
SCI scientists aim to uncover fundamental principles of stem cell identity and function, and to translate this knowledge into new approaches to manage and treat challenging medical conditions. In parallel SCI provides world-class training and opportunities for PhD students, post-doctoral fellows, clinician scientists and junior independent investigators who will lead the field in the future.
SCI is already recognised as a major academic centre for stem cell research worldwide. However, transforming stem cell research into improved healthcare requires coordination and integration of diverse technologies, skills and resources. Currently SCI research groups are spread across 7 different sites. The University has therefore decided to construct a new building on the Cambridge Biomedical Research Campus with 8,000m2 dedicated to house the SCI laboratories. This will have a catalytic effect through the combination of: (i) co-location to maximise research cooperativity and synergy; (ii) bringing basic researchers into proximity with clinical investigators and resources to deliver the translational agenda; (iii) dedicated space to enable recruitment of 10-15 new stem cell research groups, including cross-disciplinary scientists from computational, physical sciences and bioengineering backgrounds. The Cambridge Stem Cell Institute is thus uniquely positioned to establish the continuous iteration between fundamental and clinical science combined with rigorous standards of research quality that will over time deliver safe and effective new treatments for patients.