6 November 2012

New national stem cell resource

Wellcome Trust and MRC invest £13m to create a new national stem cell resource

Naive Sanger Institute Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells. This image demonstrates the classic compact and domed morphology of Sanger Institute Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells growing on mouse feeders.

Naive Sanger Institute Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells. This image demonstrates the classic compact and domed morphology of Sanger Institute Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells growing on mouse feeders. [David Ryan, Genome Research Ltd]

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The Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council (MRC) today announced a £12.75 million initiative to create a catalogue of high-quality adult stem cells, so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). The initiative will provide a knowledge-base to underpin the use of such cells in studying the effects of our genes on health and disease and lay the foundations to create a new iPS cell bank, providing a world-class resource for UK researchers.

The investment will enable researchers to exploit the technology made possible by the discoveries of Professor Sir John Gurdon and Professor Shinya Yamanaka, who this year received a Nobel prize for their pioneering research into changing adult cells into stem cells.

Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are derived from ordinary cells of the adult body by winding the clock back and reprogramming them to become stem cells. They have the potential to develop into a wide range of specialised cell types and so are particularly useful for studying the biological mechanisms of disease and exploring the impact of genetic variation on cell behaviour.

The Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Initiative (HIPSCI) will generate iPS cells from healthy volunteers and patient groups. Using state of the art techniques, researchers will conduct extensive genetic analysis on the cells, and will characterise how the cells respond to specific external stimuli and develop into specialised cell types.

The resulting cell collection and data set will be the UK's most comprehensive resource for investigating how genetic variation impacts on cell behaviour and how diseases linked to a specific genetic defect can result in a broad spectrum of clinical abnormalities. The project will be led by King's College London and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

" By tying genetic variation to changes in the behaviour of human cells, we will build paths to understanding human disease. "

Dr Richard Durbin

Professor Fiona Watt of Kings College London, said: "The Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Initiative brings together world-leading expertise in clinical genetics, stem cell biology and genomic technologies. We believe that this research will drive forward the translation of basic research into improved diagnosis and treatment of disease. At King's we also hope this will enable us to open a 'Stem Cell Hotel', providing a platform for collaborative experiments between clinician scientists with in-depth knowledge of specific diseases and cell biologists who have the tools to obtain quantitative readouts of cell behaviour."

"Since the Human Genome Project, we have been working to uncover the role of variation in our genome for our wellbeing," explains Dr Richard Durbin, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "The 1000 Genomes Project published its first comprehensive suite of findings last Wednesday: today's announcement will harness biological research on a similarly powerful scale to give that variation biological meaning. By tying genetic variation to changes in the behaviour of human cells, we will build paths to understanding human disease."

Sanger Institute investigators aim to make more than 1000 induced pluripotent stem cell lines from healthy people and those with disease, and will use genomic approaches to study variation in their cellular function. The multi-institution project will include collaborations with the University of Cambridge, University of Dundee, European Bioinformatics Institute and UCL (University College London).

"The Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Initiative will be an important resource that will help researchers around the world understand the links between genetic variation, cell behaviour and disease and speed up the translation of this research into improved diagnosis and treatment of disease," said Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust. "The field of induced pluripotent stem cell research was made possible thanks to the seminal discoveries of Sir John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka, who were last month awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology for their work. This is a field in which the UK remains at the cutting edge. Our investment in this new initiative should further strengthen the UK's position and lead to patient benefit."

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC, said: "Induced pluripotent stem cells hold enormous potential to help us understand and treat human disease, but currently the application of iPS cell technology is limited by gaps in our knowledge regarding their biological properties and how we can best manipulate them to accurately model human disease. By investing in a UK-wide initiative in iPS cell technology, we hope to propel UK researchers to the forefront of this rapidly evolving field and provide an invaluable stock of high-quality cell lines for use by academia and industry alike."

Notes to Editors

About the Medical Research Council

For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council 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.

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About King's College London

King's College London is one of the top 30 universities in the world (2011/12 QS World University Rankings), and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has nearly 23,500 students (of whom more than 9,000 are graduate students) from nearly 140 countries, and some 6,000 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.

King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.

King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine, nursing and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.

King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services.

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The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is one of the world's leading genome centres. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower medical science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease.

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The Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. We support the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. Our breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. We are independent of both political and commercial interests.

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