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

November 05, 2012

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.

Professor Fiona Watt of King's 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."
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Wellcome Trust

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