The UK biotech firm ReNeuron, which wants to develop stem cell treatments for stroke, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, has raised £19 million investment for its research. Chief executive Martin Edwards said: 'Market conditions have not been easy but what made a difference was that many fund managers had not heard about the potential of stem cells before'.
The company was formed three years ago, after scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry, London, discovered that they could restore rat brain function by injecting mouse brain stem cells - cells that can replicate and grow into a variety of different brain cells. ReNeuron aims to use brain cells from aborted fetuses to develop human therapies, which, it says, could be available as soon as 2008.
Meanwhile, PPL Therapeutics, the firm that developed the technology used to clone Dolly the sheep, last week announced plans to develop a new stem cell therapy for diabetes. The symptoms of diabetes, which affects about 1.4 million people in the UK, are caused by an inability to control blood sugar levels. Chief executive Ron James said the company had two 'lines of attack', the first of which was to produce human stem cells that can turn into pancreatic islet cells, which produce the blood-sugar regulating hormone insulin. James claims that PPL has developed a unique method of producing 'reprogrammed' adult stem that can grow into a variety of tissues.
The firm's second approach is to use islet cells isolated from pigs that have been genetically engineered so that their tissues are not rejected by the human immune system. 'It's hard to see which approach will be more effective - we'll have to see which gets there first' said James.