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International Collaboration Brings Stem Cell Clinical Trials a Step Closer

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The MRC has awarded approximately £5 million towards studies addressing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). The projects involves both UK and US research teams, and have been funded as part of an international collaboration between the Medical Research Council and the Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM)

The jointly-funded initiative has brought leading researchers together to add momentum to the development of stem cell treatments that can eventually be used in the clinic. The first programmes to emerge from this enterprise will be expected to begin Phase I clinical trials within four years.

The first project concerns age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness among the elderly. The study will be led by Professor Pete Coffey at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Professor Mark Humayun at the University of Southern California.

Professor Coffey: “Age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of irreversible vision-loss, and it is estimated that over 710,000 people in the UK will suffer from AMD with severe vision impairment by 2020. The stem cell route we have proposed offers an opportunity for more successful results based on a single surgical treatment and hopefully a mechanism for preserving an individual’s eyesight.”

The second project, for acute myeloid leukaemia, will be led by Professor Paresh Vyas at the University of Oxford and Professor Irving Weissman at Stanford University.

Professor Vyas: “Acute myeloid leukaemia is a cancer of the blood which originates from the bone marrow with 2,200 new cases diagnosed in the UK annually. Many of those with the condition are over the age of 65 and not suitable candidates for aggressive chemotherapy. New treatments targeted at the cancer stem cells that current evidence suggests propagate the disease, could eventually offer more people real options for treatment and an increased chance of survival.”

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council: “The partnerships that have been established between the UK and CIRM have brought us closer to delivering the promise of stem cell treatments for debilitating conditions. We hope these projects will accelerate treatments to early clinical trials, eventually leading to a direct benefit for people suffering from age-related macular degeneration, which up until now has been regarded as incurable and also acute myeloid leukaemia. The MRC has led the way for UK translational researchers and together with our partners at CIRM we look forward to realising the full potential of stem cell research.”