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Stem Cells

The results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) placed Barts and The London School of Medicine in the top 5 medical and dental schools in England for quality of research.

Given their unique ability to replicate specific human cells and tissues, and their potential to cure disease and heal injury, the study of stem cells is a key component of the School’s research strategy.

Initiative in Stem Cell Biology

The School has teams working on internationally competitive research programmes in areas such as adult stem cell plasticity, stem cell re-differentiation and trans-differentiation cancer stem cells, bioreactors and stem cell amplification, and stem cell targeting. These programmes were brought together by the Initiative in Stem Cell Biology established by the School in 2006, with funding from Barts and The London Charitable Foundation.

Designed to promote cross-collaborative research and to advance discoveries in this important field, the Initiative includes all the research centres within the Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular Science, as well as the Institute of Cancer, the Institute of Dentistry, the William Harvey Research Institute, and bioengineering researchers based in the School of Engineering and Materials Science at Queen Mary.

RAE results

The Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular Science, returned in Hospital Subjects, was ranked in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise joint 1st with Cambridge and Edinburgh in terms of 3* and 4* outputs and was joint 7th overall out of 28, ahead of Manchester, Newcastle and Southampton.

Research programmes

Research programmes investigate various aspects of stem cell biology, ranging from basic science to clinical application, and many of these studies have already made a significant scientific contribution. Research aims to answer key questions such as whether differentiated cells can revert to the stem cell phenotype, which adult stem cells are tissue specific and which can transit to other tissues via the circulatory system.

An example of this is the work of Professor Sir Nicholas Wright who, with colleagues, demonstrated that hepatocytes (liver cells) can be produced from non-hepatic adult stem cells.

Researchers in the The Centre for Cutaneous Research identified a number of key stem cell molecules that are important in epidermal differentiation, wound healing and signalling between hair follicles and the epidermis.

The Centre for Cutaneous Research

Other ongoing investigations include identifying stem cell marker proteins and determining the specific cellular cues (known as homing and cell fate signals) that form the correct microenvironment for cell regeneration. These include gene encoding growth factors and developmental genes.

Well established stem cell groups within the Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular Science and the William Harvey Research Institute include:

  • Intestinal stem cells
  • Heart stem cells
  • Epithelial stem cells
  • Malignant stem cells
  • Pancreatic stem cells
  • Haemopoietic stem cells
  • Hair stem cells
  • Genetics of stem cells
  • Mesenchymal stem cells
  • Neural stem cells
  • Embryonic stem cells
  • Inherited stem cell disorders

Initiative in Stem Cell Biology

In keeping with the strategy of the Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular Science to gain synergistic value through the development of interdisciplinary themes, in 2006 the Initiative in Stem Cell Biology was launched which traverses each of the component Research Centres within the Institute and extends beyond to incorporate researchers from other Queen Mary Departments (e.g. Bioengineering) and linked Institutes (e.g. Institute of Cancer).

The aim of the Initiative is to consolidate and expand an internationally competitive research programme in areas including adult stem cell plasticity, stem cell re-differentiation and trans-differentiation, bioreactors and stem cell amplification, and stem cell targeting.

The initiative is headed by Professor Ian MacKenzie.

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