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8 Leading Global Research Universities Backing Stem Cell Therapy


As hubs of concentrated talent and knowledge, universities play a significant role in the advancement of medical research, with many producing big breakthroughs in stem cell research. In the midst of the biomedical revolution, these specialist institutes are dedicated to driving the industry forward and accelerating our move towards regenerative medicine.

Some of the most significant advances in medical history have come out of places like Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford university. It’s by no coincidence; they’re the ideal environment for it. Regular influxes of new talent create a constant stream of new thinking, while funding from public and private organisations helps maintain the very best in equipment and technology.

From the very first developments of a technique to derive embryonic cells from mice more than 30 years ago, to the application of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from our teeth in stem cell treatments, research universities have been at the heart of it all.

And with the drawbacks of the traditional healthcare model today becoming more apparent, we’re witnessing a rise of interest and focus on stem cell research — not only in universities but private organisations too.

The thousands of studies and clinical trials being conducted around the world have spurred the development of an independent unifying body, known as The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR). Founded in 2002, the ISSCR now has over 4,000 members and fulfils an integral role in monitoring and influencing international standards for stem cell research.

The creation of such a body has been a big plus for stem cell research. Guidelines from the ISSCR mean that all stakeholders around the world, from researchers to sponsors to clinical trial participants, operate within the same standards and thus can know exactly what to expect.

There are still many challenges on the road ahead for stem cell research, not least in policy changes and encouraging a complete rethink of modern day healthcare. But with some of the world’s finest institutions on the case, the future of the industry has never looked so bright. With a focus on the UK and US, here we shine the spotlight on a handful of the most prominent institutions — many of which are behind the most recent scientific breakthroughs around stem cell therapies.

Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Harvard University

Home to the largest concentration of biomedical researchers in the world, The Harvard Stem Cell Institute is the biggest collaborative of its kind.

Over the past decade, their community of over 1,000 scientists has dedicated much of their time to getting a firm handle on stem cells and understanding how they can harness their potential. Today, the HSCI’s primary focus is on bringing stem cell-based treatments to patients as quickly as possible.

And they’re certainly not hanging around. In recent news, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute announced a collaboration with Semma Therapeutics to advance off-the-shelf stem cell products for diabetes through clinical trials.

The Oxford Stem Cell Institute (OSCI), Oxford University

As a whole, the OSCI comprises over 45 core and affiliated laboratories across Oxford whose work is tied together by the motivation of tackling the biggest health problems of the 21st century.

With such a wide range of specialists, their research aims to break the traditional taxonomy of medicine and cross boundaries to develop more effective stem cell and anti-cancer therapies. Some of key areas of focus of the OSCI include the understanding the environments which generate physiological and cancer stem cells, and exploiting current knowledge for immediate therapeutic benefit in cancer and regenerative medicine.

Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Stanford University

For the past 25 years, Stanford has been a global leader in stem cell research and remains high among the key players driving the biomedical revolution.

Under the direction of renowned stem cell researcher Dr. Irving Weissman, Standford sits at the cutting-edge of stem cell research, collaborating with the entrepreneurial endeavours of Silicon Valley, accelerating new stem cell-based therapies, and training the next generation of stem cell researchers.

Researchers at Stanford were behind one of the most promising stem cell therapy trials of recent days which showed very encouraging results for victims of strokes.

Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, Cambridge University

Funded by the University of Cambridge, the Medical Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust, the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute is internationally renowned for its work in stem cell biology and medicine.

Their efforts spread across the whole spectrum of regenerative medicine, with specialist teams focused on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease through understanding the basic mechanisms of stem and progenitor cells.

Just a few days ago (July 2016), the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute published a paper in the journal Nature, detailing how they’ve identified, for the first time, the ‘cell of origin’ — the first cell from which cancer grows — in the most common type of skin cancer.

The Broad Stem Cell Research Center, University of California (UCLA)

The Broad Stem Cell Research Center was founded to play a fundamental role in revolutionising healthcare and the treatment of disease through personalised cellular therapies and regenerative medicine.

Through state of the art methods such as computational modelling and synthetic chemistry, their research programs dive into a wide range of areas including metabolic disorders, musculoskeletal repair and regeneration, and genetic disease.

Just last month Michael Grunstein, professor of biological chemistry and member of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center, received the 2016 Gruber Prize in Genetics for his pioneering work in the field of epigenetics. His research showed us that genetic coding is not solely determined by our inherited DNA, but also by our ‘histones’, the proteins that package and order our DNA.

Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, University College London

With partners including the London Centre for Nanotechnology and the MRC National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), the UCL Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine takes a diverse and multi-disciplinary approach to stem cell research.

As well as being part of the team behind the stem-cell based tracheal replacement in a 2-year boy in 2012, their work spans beyond the Medical Sciences and looks at the societal and socioeconomic impact that the industry will have in the future.

Yale Stem Cell Center, Yale University

Thanks to grant funding from The Connecticut Stem Cell Research Fund (CSCRF), the Yale Stem Cell Center at Yale University is home to four state-of-the-art core laboratories which explore every aspect of stem cell research from genomics to Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSCs).

The Yale Stem Cell Center has a firm purpose of applying stem cell therapy in improving human health, while also increasing the public’s understanding and awareness of stem cell biology. In 2014, their research team published fascinating findings which described a previously unknown link between cancer cells and healthy cells, and how they actively recruit healthy cells to promote tumour growth.

Centre For Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine, King’s College London

With strong links with the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, the Centre For Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine at KCL stands at the forefront of genomics and cancer research.

Across their departments which encompass the likes of molecular genetics and genetic epidemiology, researchers are harnessing recent advancements in our understanding of genetics, genomics, and stem cells to help create effective cell-based therapies.

A prominent figure in the world of regenerative medicine and director of the Centre For Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine, Professor Watt was recently announced as this year’s winner of the FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award.

The globalised effort surrounding stem cell research is truly astounding. But the feat presented by understanding just how these little building blocks of life function and interact justifies such attention.

Faculties are blurring barriers within universities; institutions are forming strategic partnerships with organisations across a variety of sectors. Such a wide angle approach has meant much progress has already been made. And today work can be directed toward fine tuning grey areas of understanding, shaping new policies, and finally putting decades of research into practice by driving stem cell treatments into clinical pathways.

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