Durham opens stem cell labs

Durham University has opened a trio of laboratories worth £3m to develop pioneering new stem cell therapies.

DurhamUniversity has opened a trio of laboratories worth £3m to develop pioneering new stem cell therapies.

The laboratories will be used to investigate the therapeutic potential of so-called ‘adult’ stem cells for medical issues such as wound healing and heart disease.

Durham stem cell scientists are currently working on projects that include using stem cells to generate artificial blood vessels for use in heart transplantation. They are also working on a project with Teesside-based Avecia to develop stem cell technology for use in wound healing, including burns to the skin.

Scientists from outside Durham will also be able to use the facilities to advance their work.

Stem cells are a special type of cell that has the ability to renew other cells in the body. Adult stem cells are found throughout the body and perform the everyday renewal of existing cells. More properly known as ‘somatic’ stem cells, they are present as soon as a baby is born.

The challenge facing scientists is to find out how these stem cells work naturally in the body, how they may be made to work better, and how they may be re-programmed to work in new ways.

Durham University is a key partner in the North East England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI), and employs more than 50 stem cell researchers, including 12 senior academics.

Professor Chris Hutchison, co-director of NESCI at Durham, said: ‘These facilities position Durham at the forefront of research in adult stem cells but most importantly will ensure we can take our work to the clinic and to the market within a much shorter timescale than was possible before.’

One North East and the government’s Science Research Investment Fund have provided funding for the laboratories.