Stem cells can renew themselves almost indefinitely and can develop into any of the cell types in the body. They are an invaluable tool for scientists studying the mechanisms of human disease and could be used as an alternative to animal models by pharmaceutical companies developing new drugs. They also show great promise as potential treatments for devastating conditions such as liver disease, diabetes, blindness and spinal cord injury and neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's disease.
The new Institute, at the University of Cambridge, will build on existing investment by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Wellcome Trust, uniting 30 leading research teams with expertise across the three main types of stem cell: embryonic, adult and induced pluripotent cells.
Research scientists will work alongside technology specialists and doctors to develop new therapeutic approaches underpinned by a strong base of fundamental stem cell biology. Located in Cambridge, the Institute is near the largest cluster of biotechnology companies in Europe, allowing unrivalled opportunities for industry collaboration.
Professor Austin Smith, Director of the new Institute, said: "The Wellcome Trust-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute(opens in a new tab) will be an invigorating environment for cross-fertilisation between fundamental and translational researchers. Our aim is to close the knowledge gap and drive stem cell research forward towards clinical applications. The world-class facilities will attract the best international talent from the fields of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine to pursue this goal."
Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "This strategic collaboration between the UK's two largest funders of medical research has united teams from across Cambridge that work across all types of stem cell research and will enable its director, Austin Smith, to attract outstanding researchers in the field. The new institute will play a vital part in accelerating our understanding health and disease and in the development of new treatments and will cement the UK's position as a world leader in stem cell research."
Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC, said: "The UK is currently one of the best places in the world to do stem cell research, and we want to make sure that continues to be the case now and for the next generation of scientists. By joining forces with the Wellcome Trust to invest strategically in all areas of stem cell science, embracing both adult and embryonic stem cells, we will create a competitive and attractive environment for future commercial investment in regenerative medicine."
It is intended that the Institute will eventually be housed in a purpose-built 8000-m2 facility to be constructed on the Cambridge Biomedical Research Campus. Key areas of research at the Institute include pluripotency, haematopoiesis, epithelial tissues, and neural and cardiovascular stem cells.
Professor Sir Patrick Sissons, Regius Professor of Physic and Head of the School of Clinical Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said: "This joint funding initiative from the Wellcome Trust and MRC gives us the opportunity to link Cambridge's great strengths in stem cell biology with our strengths in translational clinical research, and thus to give new insights into disease mechanisms - and ultimately to develop new therapies.
"In association with the initiative, we all look forward to the future co-location of stem cell biology and medicine in the new building planned for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus."
For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council(opens in a new tab) has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics (penicillin), the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century.
The University of Cambridge’s(opens in a new tab) mission is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. Cambridge's reputation for excellence is known internationally and reflects the scholastic achievements of its academics and students, as well as the world-class original research carried out by its staff. Some of the most significant scientific breakthroughs occurred at the University, including the splitting of the atom, invention of the jet engine and the discoveries of stem cells, plate tectonics, pulsars and the structure of DNA. From Isaac Newton to Stephen Hawking, the University has nurtured some of history's greatest minds and has produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other UK institution with over 80 laureates.
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.