The UKSCF has funded a range of projects that aim to translate stem cell research into future therapies with genuine patient benefits. These include:
- Spinal cord repair
- Multiple sclerosis
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Corneal blindness
- Hip revision surgery
- Bone and cartilage repair
- Achilles tendinopathy
- Blood cancer
We also support PhD Studentships through the London Regenerative Medicine Initiative.
Our Current Fundraising Campaigns
Some of the research projects we have supported are ready to progress to clinical trial. This is where the safety and efficacy of the potential treatments are tested before they can become widely available to patients. Help us raise funds for clinical trials for the following research projects:
- Spinal cord repair clinical trial - find out more and make a donation
- Bone and cartilage repair clinical trial - find out more and make a donation
- Heart attack recovery clinical trial - find out more and make a donation
The UK Stem Cell Foundation has supported the work of Professor Raisman and his team at UCL for several years. Recognised as a world leader in his field, Prof. Raisman has pioneered the use of olfactory ensheathing cells to repair damage to the spinal cord. These stem cells are taken from the patient's own upper nasal passages and are used to help regrow nerve fibres in the damaged spinal cord. An initial study by the team has shown that this procedure is feasible and safe in spinal injured patients. More recently, the team has been searching for the best source of olfactory ensheathing cells in human tissue as millions of stem cells are needed to bridge a gap in the spinal cord. They also are developing prototype nanofibre biomaterials, which will provide the bridge on which transplanted OECs can grow to repair human spinal injuries. The next stage to this project is to raise sufficient funds for a clinical trial.
Watch this short film to find out more about what this research means for those affected by spinal cord damage. The film was produced by supporters of the British Neurological Research Trust, now incorporated into the UKSCF.
In the clip below, Professor Geoffrey Raisman discusses his spinal cord repair project. By using olfactory ensheathing cells, Professor Raisman was able to regenerate a damaged spinal cord in one patient, who now has the ability to walk with the aid of a walker.
The following three projects have been funded in collaboration with the MS Society.
Evaluation of the Therapeutic Potential of Transplanting Neural Stem Cells in Optic Neuritis
This project will evaluate the therapeutic potential of transplanting neural stem cells in optic neuritis, or inflammation of the optic nerve in the eye. This is a symptom of MS that leaves many people with visual impairment.
As the visual pathway is the most accessible part of the human central nervous system, it makes it easier to monitor potential repair. This project will investigate the efficacy of the syngeneic neural stem cells of optic neuritis in experimental models of MS. It will also investigate how to improve stem cell-based therapies by evaluating the most appropriate route and timing of cell administration, and the best approach to achieve functional and long-lasting integration of transplanted stem cells. This will provide a tool for a seamless translation of studies into the clinical setting.
Use of Autologous Mesenchymal Stem Cells to Treat Relapsing-remitting MS
Led by Dr Paolo Muraro at Imperial College London, this phase II clinical trial is part of an international collaboration involving 150 to 200 people with MS across Europe, America and Canada. Researchers at trial sites in Edinburgh and London are investigating the use of autologous mesenchymal stem cells (which come from the participants’ own bone marrow) as a form of immunotherapy to prevent and potentially reverse neurological deterioration in relapse-remitting MS. The trial will test whether stem cells can treat the active MS lesions of the participants, where damage is currently occurring on their brains.
At the end of the trial, the researchers will combine their information to get a much more accurate measure of the risks and benefits of using mesenchymal stem cells than they would by working on their own. By collaborating internationally, the time usually taken to collect, document and verify their findings will be significantly reduced.
Depending on the results of the trial, a larger, phase III clinical trial would be required to evaluate more fully the use of mesenchymal stem cells in a larger number of people, to assess the risks and benefits to participants and possibly to compare the effectiveness of the treatment with other standard therapies.
Study into the Characteristics and Interactions of Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Patients with Progressive MS
Led by Prof. Constantinescu at the University of Nottingham, this research aims to understand more about mesenchymal stem cells, which have the ability to modulate the immune system and have neuroprotective / neurorepair qualities. The project will look into the phenotypic characteristics, immune interactions and ultra-high field imaging of autologous mesenchymal stem cells. It will compare cells from people with progressive forms of MS with people without MS to help understand more about these cells in preparation for future clinical trials into effective treatments.
This study investigates for the first time whether damage to the heart muscle caused by heart attack, can be prevented by injecting stem cells taken from heart attack patients’ own bone marrow into their hearts within a critical five hours of the attack.
It is the first known project of its type in the UK to combine stem cell delivery to the heart with primary angioplasty – where the blocked arteries in heart attack patients are opened as quickly as possible.
The project addresses the UK’s biggest killer and hopes to ascertain whether stem cells administered immediately after suffering a heart attack can speed up recovery, reduce the likelihood of suffering repeat attack and reduce fatalities from later onset heart failure.
The trial is over half way through and the team has demonstrated that it can deliver stem cells earlier than anyone has done before (within 6 hours of a heart attack). It has had no unexpected complications related to this and has therefore demonstrated for the first time the safety and feasibility of injecting the cells into a patient so soon after a heart attack. The clinical value of the trial has now been recognised by other centres in the UK and in Europe and the team is in the process of initiating another 3 large hospitals to join the recruitment for this trial.
The human liver metabolises everything that enters the body. The main cell type in the liver responsible for this diverse function is the hepatocyte. The goal of this research is to engineer and manufacture the large amounts of hepatocytes required for the treatment of human liver disease. The hepatocyte technology developed in Edinburgh is robust, scalable and ready to move toward the clinic. The team is interested in developing its technology as an extra-corporeal device, a strategy which has been shown clinically to support human liver function. While bio-artificial liver devices have been used successfully in the past, their widespread acceptance was limited due to the incorporation of animal products. Its future interest is therefore to generate the quantity of hepatocytes required to ‘fuel’ a bio-artificial liver device. The humanised bio-artificial liver will then be evaluated in the correct clinical context to determine its value in treating human liver disease. The research has three aims:
- Scale up of existing hepatocyte manufacture under conditions required for clinical grade manufacture.
- Develop stem cell derived bio-artificial liver devices and validate those in appropriate pre-clinical models.
- To generate the scientific evidence required to fund and begin human clinical trials.
Limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD) is a painful eye disease that prevents the cornea renewing itself and can result in reduced vision or blindness, ocular irritation and visual glare. Current treatments for LSCD include standard corneal transplantation as well as limbal tissue grafting. However, both treatments have severe limitations in terms of success rates, the risk of tissue rejection and shortage of tissue supply, and can lead to the damage of donors’ healthy eyes.
The aim of this trial is to apply ex vivo limbal stem cells to address limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD) to see if they can halt or repair damage to the eye.
Hip replacement is regarded as one of the most successful advances in modern orthopaedic surgery with over 50,000 hips implanted every year. These numbers are set to increase due to demographic and lifestyle changes in the population. Hip replacements last for approximately 15 years before they have to be revised due to the fixation with the bone becoming loose. This will increase the need for revision surgery due to the failure of the initial hip replacement. Prof Blunn’s research focuses on the second hip replacement, which is generally less successful because the bone into which the prosthesis is fixed has degraded. Giving large numbers of the patients’ own stem cells helps revive this bone and Prof Blunn’s research has shown that stem cells taken from the bone marrow can be expanded to high numbers in the lab. When these cells are used in revision hip surgery, they may increase bone and improve fixation of the second hip. The primary aim of the project is to determine whether the inclusion of stem cells in the graft structure will improve implant fixation and lead to bone regeneration. It is hoped that the degraded bone will become renewed and this will greatly reduce the number of further operations often required by patients in this situation.
Musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis account for enormous suffering and morbidity worldwide. There are currently 60,000 hip fractures per annum in the UK, 250,000 in the USA. Osteoarthritis is in the top 10 causes of disability with hip fractures being a major cause of mortality in an increasingly elderly population. Existing surgery includes hip replacement and artificial cartilage constructs but most have a limited life span and patients frequently require multiple revisions sometimes only regaining limited independence.
Prof Noble has two related projects that employ related techniques to derive bone and cartilage forming cells from two distinct sources – human embryonic stem cells and autologous adult stem cells. While autologous cells might be appropriate in a range of clinical situations, the use of embryonic stem cells addresses problems associated with production of large numbers of cells and when for genetic reasons the patients’ own stem cells cannot be employed. The stem cells are grafted onto bioactive scaffolds creating the optimum environment to nurture repair to areas of bone and cartilage damage.
Led by Andrew Goldberg OBE of UCL and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, this first-in-man pilot study explores the treatment of Achilles Tendinopathy using a culture of expanded autologous mesenchymal stem cells to repair damage. Stems cells will be taken from the patient's own hip,expanded in the laboratory then implanted into the damaged tendon. UCL is one of the few centres in the world developing expertise into the regeneration of tendons using stem cells, as well as translating successful treatments used in horses into humans.
Achilles Tendinopathy causes pain in the heel and affects more than 70,000 people a year in the UK.
Led by Professor Geoff Raisman at University College London in collaboration with Professor Peng Khaw at Moorfields Eye Hospital, this experimental project has shown that patients suffering from glaucoma can potentially be treated by their own stem cells. By transplanting a small number of their own olfactory ensheathing cells into the region of the optic nerve, this study has shown it is possible to halve the loss of optic nerve fibres caused by raised eye pressure and reduce the damage to the optic nerve tissue.
Glaucoma is the most common cause of irreversible blindness in the world today. In the UK, around 1 in 50 people aged over 40 has glaucoma. This rises to around 1 in 10 people over the age of 75. An age-related condition, glaucoma is becoming an increasingly common condition as the population of the UK ages. It is very commonly an insidious, progressive condition that causes damage to the optic nerve, and by the time it is detected some loss of vision has usually occurred.
Co-funded with the Anthony Nolan Trust, this cord blood ‘bolt on’ project is led by Dr. Bronwen Shaw of the Royal Marsden Hospital. By studying the immune recovery of patients following cord blood stem cell transplants (also known as bone marrow transplants), and comparing lab-based investigations with data gained in a clinical setting, this project will offer direct translational benefits for patients by reducing complications and improving long-term transplant survival rates.
For 37,000 children and adults with blood cancers worldwide each year, a stem cell transplant is their last hope of life when no other treatment options remain.
Through the London Regenerative Medicine Initiative, UKSCF has funded 5 PhD studentships as part of a one-off project.
The translation of basic stem cell science into safe, effective and affordable therapies for patients is an undoubted research priority. However, it is well recognised that there is a significant skills gap in this important area. To help address this issue in London, the UK Stem Cell Foundation (UKSCF) in association with the London Regenerative Medicine Network (LRMN) is sponsoring the London Regenerative Medicine Initiative (LRMI). Under the LRMI, a cohort of five doctoral training studentships are being co-funded under the EPSRC Industrial Doctoral Training Scheme leading to the award of an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) degree.
The LRMI doctorates involve advanced research and training at the following participating centres:
Prof. Martin Birchall - Royal Throat Nose and Ear Hospital/Royal Free
Dr. Mark Lowdell - Cellular Therapeutics Laboratory, Royal Free Hospital
"Scale-up of tissue-engineered airways using adult mesenchymal stem cells"
(Dr, Ivan Wall/Dr. Farlan Veraitch)
Prof. Pete Coffey - The London Project to Cure Blindness
Mr. Lyndon da Cruz - Moorfields Eye Hospital
"Scale-up of human embryonic stem cell-based therapies for age-related macular degeneration"
(Prof. Chris Mason/Dr. Ivan Wall)
Prof. Paul Sharpe – King’s College London/Odontis Ltd
"BioTooth - Tooth tissue engineering"
(Dr. Paul Dalby/Dr. Ivan Wall)
Prof. Nagy Habib - Hammersmith Hospital Trust /OmniCyte Ltd.
"Scaling OmniCyte (adult stem cells) therapy for safe, effective and
affordable clinical use"
(Dr. Ivan Wall/Dr. Farlan Veraitch)
Dr. Anthony Mathur - Barts and the London NHS Hospital Trust
"Translation of bone-marrow derived therapies for routine clinical practice of cardiac disease"
(Dr. Ivan Wall/Dr. Farlan Veraitch)
We are delighted to see our funding of Professor Geoffrey Raisman’s research has now led to a paralysed man walking again following a stem cell transplant. More details of this exciting development can be found on BBC News and the Panorama programme first shown on 21st October 2014.
Our chair, Sir Richard Sykes, had this to say: "We are proud to be the major funders of this work. Our aim is to see potential treatments of this type get into the clinic faster. The first patient is an inspirational and important step, which brings years of laboratory research towards the clinical testbed. To fully develop future treatments that benefit the 3 million paralysed globally will need continued investment for wide scale clinical trials."
And that is where you, our supporters, come in. The £2.5million we have contributed towards Professor Raisman’s work is just the start and we need your help to make this treatment a reality for many more.
"We have helped over £20 million to be invested in stem cell research projects in the UK through a combination of fundraising, co-funding and collaboration."
- Lord Robert Winston
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