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A blueprint for the future

Chris Mason of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Bioprocessing Unit at University College London explains the significance of stem cells and regenerative medicine

The UK has an enviable track record in stem cell research, including the first-ever derivation of mammalian embryonic stem cells by Martin Evans and Matt Kaufman (University of Cambridge) in 1981 and the first cloning of a mammal, ?Dolly the sheep?, by Ian Wilmut and his team at the Roslin Institute (Edinburgh) in 1997. The country also boasts a line-up of numerous top international stem cell scientists, including Peter Andrews and Harry Moore (University of Sheffield), Austin Smith and Roger Pederson (University of Cambridge) and Stephen Minger and Peter Braude (King?s College London) to name just a few.

Other gems in the collection include the international leader in stem cell banking ? the UK Stem Cell Bank under the leadership of Glyn Stacey, the UK Stem Cell Foundation ? a charity funding innovative UK clinical stem cell projects, plus a growing collection of world-class stem cell and regenerative medicine companies including Intercytex, Stem Cell Sciences and ReNeuron.

To build on these outstanding successes and to produce a national vision and strategy to keep the UK at the forefront of stem cell research, Chancellor Gordon Brown established the UK Stem Cell Initiative (UKSCI) in early 2005 under the leadership of Sir John Pattison. After very thorough discussions with all the key stakeholders in the emerging sector, the subsequent UKSCI Report and Recommendations published in November 2005 was the world?s first-ever ?blueprint? for the long-term future of stem cell research and its translation into commercial technologies such as drug development tools and patient therapies.

The report was not only warmly welcomed by the UK government, but also by virtually the entire international community since it was the first ?road map? for the translation of stem cell science into practical outcomes and sustainable initiatives.

The 11 recommendations set out in the report covered the full range of areas required to produce a successful outcome, including: the consolidation and expansion of the existing infrastructure including building a new permanent building for the UK Stem Cell Bank, extending the role of the highly respected regulatory agencies, facilitation of clinical translation, increased levels of research funding, promoting networking between researchers throughout the UK and the dissemination of information to the public plus a very novel private/public consortium to initiate and develop human embryonic stem cells as drug discovery and development tools for pharmaceutical companies. Ambitious goals, but essential targets which need to be met over the next 10 years for the UK to stay at the forefront of stem cell and regenerative medicine research.

Research success alone is, however, not enough if the UK is to sustain its leading position in stem cell technologies and regenerative medicine. The final frontier is translation ? how can the fantastic discoveries being made by stem cell researchers be turned into either effective, sensibly priced therapies available to all patients and/or tools for industry such as high-throughput toxicology screening platforms for the efficient development of new drugs? The challenge revolves around the issue that the products are live cells, the complexity of producing consistent living material at scale and in an economic manner is several orders of magnitude more complex than today?s biopharmaceutical drugs. The UK is building on its strong history of bioprocessing, including academic centres such as the Advanced Centre for Biochemical Engineering at UCL.

Furthermore, in the UK the translation of stem cell and regenerative medicine basic science has been greatly boosted by a number of activities driven by the DTI and especially by its Technology Programme. The programme has already awarded over £25m in total to approximately 30 projects to facilitate the successful commercialisation of UK world-class research into real patient therapies and commercial products. This programme has further boosted the UK?s entire stem cell and regenerative medicine sector by both raising awareness and increasing investor confidence, which has significantly contributed to the inflow of private funds throughout the fledgling industry. During 2005?2006, three UK regenerative medicine/stem cell technology companies were floated on AIM (London Stock Exchange) raising a total of over £30m.

Stem cell technology and regenerative medicine are dynamic fields, ever evolving and ever producing new challenges. The UK with its strong research base, the UK Stem Cell Initiative?s ?blue-print? for the future and the growing commitment to translation, is well equipped to either compete or collaborate as an equal partner with the very best in the world. This can only be good news for patients, the NHS and UK plc!

For more information, contact:

DTI Technology Programme:

UK Stem Cell Foundation:

UKSCI Report:

UKSCI Government Response:

UK Stem Cell Bank:


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