Irish Blood Transfusion Service funds €2.5m stem-cell research

 


THE Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) is to fund a €2.5 million research project led by NUI Galway (NUIG) which may see revolutionary cell therapies used in new treatments for hospital patients.

Possible stem-cell applications for arthritis, burn care and diabetic wounds, along with manufacturing and transplantation techniques, will be the focus of the collaboration, involving NUIG’s Regenerative Medicine Institute (Remedi), St James’s Hospital/Trinity College, Dublin, and University College, Cork (UCC).

The five-year project represents a “new departure” for the IBTS, according to its medical and scientific director Dr Ian Franklin.

Blood transfusion, which is the IBTS’s main remit, represents one the earliest and most successful forms of cell therapy.

However, the organisation has decided to commission expert research into the next generation of cell therapy, involving the delivery of healthy cells to injured tissue to treat a disease or
stimulate repair.

Bone marrow transplants take place in Ireland’s three major cell therapy research centres: NUIG’s Remedi, the National Adult Stem Cell Transplant Centre at St James’s Hospital/Trinity College, Dublin, and UCC’s Centre for Research in Vascular Biology.

“Stem-cell therapy is used successfully here to treat certain blood disorders like leukaemia and myeloma, while UCC has been making progress on using stem-cells to stimulate repairs in burn wounds,” NUIG Remedi director Prof Frank Barry said.

However, it is still largely experimental for other applications, and this new research programme will bring together “world-leading researchers and clinicians in cellular therapy” to take it further, Prof Barry said.

The research will focus on three areas: regenerative medicine applications in arthritis, burn care and diabetic wounds; stem-cell manufacturing and clinical trials; and transplantation techniques.

“Substantial and convincing research effort”, conducted mainly in the partners’ laboratories, indicates that stem cells can stimulate repair in arthritic joints and can stimulate healing in burns and chronic wounds.

Controversial

As part of the project, a stem-cell manufacturing platform will be developed and a series of “pivotal” pre-clinical studies and clinical trials will be carried out at Remedi’s centre for cell manufacturing at NUIG.

While the focus is on adult stem cells, research will also be carried out into use of umbilical cord blood to treat new conditions. Otherwise discarded, cord blood stem cells are not as controversial as embryonic stem cells which have been the focus of ethical debate here and elsewhere.

In 2009, the Irish Medical Council banned medical practitioners from creating embryos specifically for research.

Dr Franklin said the IBTS was “delighted to support this three-site collaboration led by the Remedi centre at NUIG”.

Previously, the board had its own research section but felt it would make more sense to seek the expertise of the universities and attached teaching hospitals.

“Conventional blood transfusion is still essential to modern healthcare but the next generation of treatments will require the production of cell-based treatments to promote body repair, healing and the regeneration of tissues and organs in the
laboratory,” he said.

The collaboration will also leave a “legacy”, in forging a strong research network between the three centres, which should foster wider access to cell-based therapies in Ireland, Dr Franklin noted.

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