Current projects with a translational or industry focus include the UKRMP Stem Cell Niche project, early-stage R&D projects, and the provision of expert advice.
UKRMP Stem cell niche – case study
The United Kingdom Regenerative Medicine Platform (UKRMP) is a £25M project, co-funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSCR), and the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC).
It aims to enable the transition of laboratory discoveries in the regenerative medicine field into clinical applications, addressing unmet medical needs. The platform currently consists of four integrated hubs, focusing on different aspects of overcoming barriers to translation.
The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine leads the hub focusing on research into 'Engineering and exploiting the stem cell niche', working with partners across the UK. This project [link to project page] aims to gain a detailed understanding of the signaling and support pathways in healthy tissue, in order to provide a basis for new regenerative approaches in disease. The UKRMP project will be complemented by a £10M Computational and Chemical Biology of the Niche research facility, further extending the capacity of the SCRM building. This will bring together the excellence of ongoing strategic developments in Edinburgh, focusing on informatics, -omics, and advanced material chemistry, with the aim to provide a national resource for regenerative medicine. It will enable the understanding of the complex niche signaling pathways through the analysis of ever growing numbers of biological databases, feeding into an iterative process of modeling and product development, all the way into early phase clinical trials.
Culturing red blood cells – case study
A large consortium, led by the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS), is refining the process of culturing red blood cells for blood transfusions using iPS cell technology.
The £5M Wellcome Trust-funded consortium is led by CRM associate researcher and SNBTS Medical Director Prof Marc Turner. It further includes research in Prof Lesley Forrester’s lab at CRM, as well as partners at the Universities of Glasgow, Loughborough, Bristol and Cambridge, the NHS Blood and Transplant, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, the Cell Therapy Catapult and Roslin Cells Ltd.
This Wellcome Trust project is directly linked to a £2.5M Scottish Funding Council (SFC) project that aims to industrialise the processes required to make red blood cells. The SFC project is led by the University of Glasgow, and also includes Lesley Forrester as well as partners from Heriot Watt and Dundee Universities, SNBTS and Scottish Enterprise.
The program will involve adapting iPS cells to grow in the lab, eventually resulting in production of fresh red blood cells for use in humans. For a viable and cost effective process, Prof Forrester aims to improve the yield and thus reduce the cost of this process. In order to transition these cells into the clinic, the manufacturing process will have to conform to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards and receive the approval from the UK Regulatory Authorities; this will be developed by Roslin Cells Ltd and SNBTS at the GMP clinical research facility, housed within the SCRM building.
The aim is for the process to be scalable for manufacture on a commercial scale, with the first in-man trial taking place by late 2016.
Industry PhD studentships
The Centre also has a number of industry studentships such as BBSRC CASE projects. While these projects are principally based at the academic home institution, they include a mandatory placement with the industry partner, which can last up to 18 months. These studentships provide our PhD candidates with an insight into the workings of a commercial research setting. In addition, they also connect our Principal Investigators more closely with industrial organizations while at the same time enabling the commercial partners to tap into cutting edge research developments at the Centre. We have found this a very successful setup that helps us move towards our goal of translating our research into viable clinical applications.
Expert advice services
All of these collaborative projects are complemented by expert advice services. Generally speaking, those are focused on particular diseases and clinical trials, but also include scientific advisory boards and expert witness provisions in court.