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Scottish Universities Collaborate to Accelerate Drug Discovery Using Stem Cell Technology

publication date: Mar 21, 2017
author/source: University of Dundee

Research teams based at the Universities of Dundee and Edinburgh are looking to partner with the pharmaceutical industry to better understand the biological processes that could allow the development of new drugs to support tissue regeneration or repair. 

University of DundeeThe National Phenotypic Screening Centre (NPSC) at the University of Dundee and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centrefor Regenerative Medicine (CRM) at the University of Edinburgh have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that commits them to work more closely together as they strive to translate novel biological discoveries into new stem cell therapies.  

Regenerative medicine therapies to treat a range of debilitating diseases (including blindness, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis and many others) are actively being developed around the world.  Many of them are based on one of two approaches: implantation of stem-cell-derived cells or the use of drugs to selectively activate and mobilise the body’s own stem cells in order to replace damaged or diseased tissues. Understanding the stem cells in tissues and their supporting environment (the stem cell `niche’) is critical to both approaches.

The UK Regenerative Medicine Platform-funded “Engineering and exploiting the stem cell niche” Hub, led by the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) at the University of Edinburgh, is dedicated to further understanding of the biology of stem cell niches and to exploiting this knowledge therapeutically to improve organ regeneration through endogenous repair and cell transplantation

Finding new drugs which can activate endogenous regenerative pathways requires the development of cell-based assays that are able to reproduce the complex behaviour (the `phenotype’) of the cells and tissues in patients. The National Phenotypic Screening Centre (NPSC) at the University of Dundee specialises in developing such complex assays so they can be systematically screened using large libraries of drug-like molecules to uncover agents that can alter cell and tissue behaviour.

Close collaboration between the two centres, which together represent government investment amounting to around £35million, will allow novel biological discoveries from CRM to benefit from the expertise and industrial drug screening infrastructure provided by the NPSC, leading to the start-points for new therapies. An in-depth understanding of cell and tissue function will facilitate the search to find molecules that improve key tissue regeneration processes that could eventually be used as drugs for regenerative repair.

Professor Stuart Forbes, Director of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine and co-director of the Niche Hub, said, “Stem cell medicine is coming of age. This is a great opportunity for Scottish Universities to partner with industry to ensure we can translate excellent science to new therapies that can help patients with chronic disease.”

Dr Paul Andrews, Director of Operations at the NPSC, said, “We are very excited to be able to sign this agreement which will help cement our growing relationship with the excellent scientists that are within the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine and the wider UK Regenerative Medicine Hub network.”

UKRMP Director Dr Rob Buckle said, “This MOU between the Niche Hub and NPSC extends the growth of the UKRMP by encouraging further interactions with the wider UK research community which will help to open up new opportunities and approaches to help deliver the great promise of regenerative medicine.”

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