Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Regenerative medicine

This area seeks to develop the science and tools that can help repair or replace damaged or diseased human cells or tissues to restore normal function. It could address a number of currently incurable degenerative conditions and help revolutionise treatment in the 21st century.

Partners involved:
Medical Research Council (MRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Regenerative medicine is an interdisciplinary field that seeks to develop the science and tools that can help repair or replace damaged or diseased human cells or tissues to restore normal function. It holds the promise of revolutionising treatment in the 21st century. It may involve:

  • transplanting stem cells, progenitor cells or tissue, stimulating the body’s own repair processes
  • using cells as delivery vehicles for therapeutic agents such as genes and cytokines
  • using biomaterials to support tissue regeneration.

All regenerative medicine strategies depend upon harnessing, stimulating or guiding endogenous developmental or repair processes. Accordingly, stem cell research plays a central role in regenerative medicine, which also spans the disciplines of tissue engineering, developmental cell biology, cellular therapeutics, gene therapy, biomaterials (scaffolds and matrices), chemical biology and nanotechnology. Promoting stem cell research, regenerative medicine and advanced therapeutics more broadly is a priority for us and the UK government.

Regenerative medicine remains an MRC priority and we are committed to supporting research in this area, towards improving human health. Projects will be suitable for a number of different funding mechanisms, depending on their stage along the pathway from basic biomedical research to translation.

Advanced therapeutics (including cell and gene therapy, regenerative medicine and innovative medicines) is one of three MRC-wide opportunity areas that apply to all boards and panels, used to help prioritise applications for funding.

Why we're doing it

To achieve our aims, we have a range of strategic investments within the broader MRC regenerative medicine research portfolio. This includes research institutes, cross-council research partnerships and critical research facilities and resources.

Find out about the institutes, units and centres we fund.

Our strategic investments support research partnerships, facilities and resources that underpin and enable community ambitions. For example, through characterising and supplying human stem cell lines and by addressing key knowledge gaps towards realising the full potential of regenerative medicine.

MRC-supported activities include the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (UKRMP), a £42 million cross-council initiative established to ensure that research addressing regenerative medicine connects seamlessly from discovery science through to clinical and commercial application. It supports high quality UK research and translational activity that will generate scientific knowledge and help deliver regenerative medicine to benefit patients and the economy.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Funding routes

We are keen to support high quality research into stem cells and regenerative medicine that:

  • improves our understanding of fundamental stem cell biology and regenerative processes
  • applies the emerging technologies to improve human health.

Research boards

Our four research boards fund science that enhances our knowledge of the biology of health and disease and new approaches to treatment, including fundamental or investigative research, for example hypothesis-led research seeking to:

  • understand developmental processes relevant to regeneration
  • understand the mechanisms of self-renewal or reprogramming, or understand the factors that drive differentiation of stem or progenitor cells down a particular lineage
  • characterise stem cell populations and their niche
  • explore the use of stem cells to probe disease mechanisms
  • develop tools and technologies, for example, for disease modelling or bioengineering
  • undertake early preclinical investigations into potential regenerative therapies, including tissue repair strategies or mechanisms to enhance endogenous repair.

The choice of which board to submit to will depend upon the nature of the work and the disease being investigated. Basic stem or progenitor cell research of a more generic nature should be directed to the Molecular and Cellular Medicine Board. Regenerative medicine research that moves beyond underpinning biological mechanisms and focuses on particular organs or tissues and associated dysfunction or disease, other than haematology, are more likely to align with one of the other research boards:

Biomedical Catalyst: Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme

The Biomedical Catalyst: Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme is a key part of our Translational Research Strategy and supports the translation of fundamental discoveries toward benefits to human health. It funds the pre-clinical development and early clinical testing of novel therapeutics, devices and diagnostics, including repurposing existing therapies.

Resources

UK stem cell line registry

The steering committee for the UK stem cell bank and use of stem cell lines publishes the UK stem cell line registry, which identifies all human embryonic stem cell lines approved for use in the UK. We will not support research using human embryonic stem cell lines that the steering committee has not approved.

Read the UK stem cell line registry.

UK stem cell bank

The UK stem cell bank provides ethically-sourced and quality controlled human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines and other associated materials to researchers worldwide, and aims to facilitate high quality and standardised research in this area. The bank publishes a catalogue of currently available hESC lines.

Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Initiative (HipSci) is one of the largest, most comprehensively genotypically and phenotypically characterised collections of human Induced pluripotent stem cell lines internationally.

International Stem Cell Banking Initiative

The International Stem Cell Banking Initiative (ISCBI) provides information for scientists interested in developing or using a stem cell bank. The initiative’s aim is to create a global network of stem cell banks through support for existing banks, and by encouraging the development of new banks.

The ISCBI encourages good practice in stem cell banking – scientifically and ethically – and provides information on resources and meetings for those involved in stem cell banking.

Induced pluripotent stem cell resources – applicant guidance

Since 2006, when Yamanaka published a method to reprogramme mature cells to a pluripotent state, a growing number of researchers seek to exploit the potential of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). We have issued guiding principles on expectations regarding requests for support for establishing new iPSC resources.

Read the induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) resources – applicant guidance.

International Stem Cell Initiative

The International Stem Cell Initiative (ISCI) is a worldwide collaborative effort to establish basic criteria and techniques to underpin the development of applications for human embryonic stem (hES) cells in human medicine.

The ISCI database gathers together information on bone fide human embryonic stem cell lines from around the world and is available for researchers to analyse for themselves.

MRC-Wellcome Trust human developmental biology resource

The MRC-Wellcome Trust human developmental biology resource is a collection of human embryonic and foetal material available for the international scientific community to research.

NHS Blood and Transplant

The NHS Blood and Transplant special health authority includes:

  • the British Bone Marrow Registry (BBMR)
  • the NHS Cord Blood Bank to collect, process, store and supply umbilical cord blood
  • specialist services providing haematopoietic stem cells (stem cells that can turn into blood cells) for the treatment of blood cancers. These specialist services also provide a national network of goods manufacturing practice facilities with regulatory expertise and small-scale manufacturing capabilities.

Innovate UK Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult

The £55 million Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult is a centre for translational excellence for cell and gene therapy and regenerative medicine. Its vision is for the UK to be a global leader in the development, delivery and commercialisation of cell and gene therapy, making it a location for business start-up and growth.

The catapult takes products into early clinical trials, providing clinical, technical, manufacturing and regulatory expertise and access to the NHS, with a focus on collaboration and lowering barriers to investment and funding.

The catapult manages a new UK Cell Therapy Manufacturing Centre that provides vital large-scale manufacturing facilities. This will substantially bolster the UK’s excellent but small-scale NHS and academic facilities that are a source of materials for early-stage clinical trials, therefore extending the UK’s capabilities into later studies and commercialisation.

Training

Regenerative medicine research projects are eligible for all our training investments. More information about training grants is available, specifically for fellowships and studentships.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Past projects

MRC has made awards in regenerative medicine research through our investigator-led funding rounds as well as strategic focused investments. For example, in 2008 we set up a specific regenerative medicine research committee to support the establishment of the UK research community in this novel area.

The UK regenerative medicine research field has matured significantly since then, and our research boards and DPFS (translational) panel are now well placed to manage funding requests in this area.

Search for MRC awards, along with those from many other UK funders on Gateway to Research.

Who to contact

Scientific queries

Dr Charlotte Durkin, MCMB lead for stem cells and regenerative medicine

Translation lead for regenerative medicine and cell therapies

Email: charlotte.durkin@mrc.ukri.org

UK Regenerative Medicine Platform

Natasha Jardine, Science Manager for the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform

Email: natasha.jardine@mrc.ukri.org

UK Regenerative Medicine Platform team

Email: uk.rmp@mrc.ukri.org

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