Collaboration between two universities in the USA and UK, supported by funding from the SETsquared Partnership, looks set to help improve the results of stem cell therapies for brain and spinal cord injuries, strokes and diseases such as Parkinson’s.
Researchers from the University of California, Irvine and the labs of Drs. Michael Hughes and Fatima Labeed at the Centre for Biomedical Engineering, University of Surrey have worked together on identifying the most effective stem cells, helping to increase the benefits from treatment.
The researchers met at a meeting in Bath organized by SETsquared.
Funding provided by SETsquared was used primarily for travel, and also to buy some supplies needed for the research work.
The funding was part of a £1.5m award from the Office of Science and Technology (OST) in April 2006 to create relationships of lasting value with commercial focus around the high-technology research and development clusters of Southern England with those in Southern California.
The programme provided a five times return on the investment made by government. This is just an additional outcome to emerge from a relationship seeded through the programme.
“Without the support and funding from SETsquared, this collaboration simply would not have happened,” said Lisa Flanagan, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Department of Neurology and Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, University of California, Irvine.
“This project is an excellent example of how a relatively small financial stimulus, combined with networking meetings, can make a massive difference to collaborative research,” said Graham Harrison, Partnership Director at SETsquared.
Stem cells hold the promise of improving how we can repair the body following injury and disease.
For the brain and spinal cord, stem cell therapy is undergoing clinical trials, but one of the limiting factors is that half or less of the stem cells used have a beneficial effect, and it is difficult to tell the cells apart and work out which ones are effective.
The research project addresses this issue by using the biophysical characteristics of stem cells to distinguish them.
The team used a technique called dielectrophoresis (DEP) to analyze stem cells, and discovered that cell membrane capacitance predicts the treatment potential of stem cells.
“While we had already started to use DEP, Drs. Hughes and Labeed showed us how to get more out of it, which was the real turning point for us,” says Flanagan. “Although there’s lots of work to do, our research is showing real promise.”