Heriot-Watt will join two other Scottish universities (Glasgow and Dundee) and biotech firm Cellartis in a research programme to develop new technologies to automate the production of high quality human stem cells. Such cells are expected to be extremely valuable tools for pharmaceutical companies, enabling them to test new drug candidates for activity and toxicity in biologically and disease-relevant human cells.
Heriot-Watt joins the ITI programme as it advances through its second phase of development. This phase began in May 2007 and is designed to identify new compounds that induce human embryonic stem (hES) cells to differentiate into desired cell types, such as heart or liver cells.
Heriot-Watt will use its expertise in medicinal chemistry to optimize the most promising compounds to improve their performance and ability to induce, consistently and controllably, the desired changes in hES cells.
It is anticipated that these compounds will then be incorporated into an automated process designed to produce stem cells in sufficient quantity for high-throughput screening in drug discovery and development, and to enable scale-up to facilitate commercial and clinical exploitation.
Dr Eleanor Mitchell, Managing Director of ITI Life Sciences, said: “Our stem cell technologies programme continues to make excellent progress and Heriot-Watt University joining the programme is particularly pleasing as it expands its scope to access the research expertise resident in a third Scottish university. This is a great example of the joined-up thinking and innovative nature of the ITI model, as well as being a very strong advertisement for the high quality of life sciences academic research in Scotland.”
Professor Andrew Walker, Vice-Principal of Heriot-Watt University, said: “It is really exciting that this ITI Life Sciences programme, which is aimed at developing medical technologies with enormous potential value, is able to draw on our expertise. This will further enhance Scotland’s worldwide reputation in stem cell technologies and is another good example of collaboration making the best use of the complementary expertise of each institution.”