Stem-cell research leaders to meet in NUIG
WORLD leaders in stem-cell technology are due to exchange knowledge of potential treatments at a conference opening in NUI Galway today.
Researchers from NUIG, University College Cork and NUI Maynooth will participate in the event, which has been billed as the first major conference on stem-cell therapy in Ireland.
Prof Anthony Hollander of the University of Bristol, England – who was one of a team which successful created and then transplanted the first tissue-engineered trachea or windpipe – is among a number of international speakers presenting findings.
The gathering will focus on the “realities” of stem-cell treatment, Prof Frank Barry, director of NUIG’s National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science has said.
The therapy is “complex and controversial, and sometimes exaggerated claims are made”, he said.
The researchers are specialists in Mesenchymal, or adult, stem cells, and will be concentrating on “what is likely in the future”, he added.
The list of conditions which could be treated successfully by stem cells is “small, but growing”, Prof Barry said.
Leukaemia and other diseases of the blood appear to respond best.
Prof Hollander’s “spectacular” trachea operation also offers possibilities for treatment of other conditions. In that case, the patient had tuberculosis, had lost her airway, and could have lost her life. She was given a bio-engineered trachea, using her own stem cells, and has been responding well since.
NUIG scientists at the centre for biomedical engineering and the Regenerative Medicine Institute (Remedi) are investigating how adult stems cells might be used to develop new treatments for vascular disease, osteoarthritis and lung injury.
Adult stem cells – as distinct from embryonic stem cells – are found in many tissues, serving as the body’s own repair mechanism.
“Work in the field of adult stem-cell therapy has advanced rapidly because they are relatively easy to isolate – from tissues such as bone marrow and fat – and grow in the laboratory,” explained Prof Barry, who is also a principal investigator at Remedi.
Other speakers at the conference will include Prof Arnold Caplan of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, in the US, who is described as one of the global leaders in adult stem-cell therapy; and Prof Catherine Verfaillie of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, an expert in applications for cardiovascular, liver and metabolic (diabetes) disorders.
The conference will raise the profile of Irish research, and also “give Irish scientists an opportunity to interact with leading scientists and industry”, Prof Barry said.