Called StemBANCC, the project was
initiated and will be coordinated by the University of Oxford and the
Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Roche. It will receive €55.6 million in funding
over five years, with €26 million coming from the European Union's Innovative
Medicines Initiative. The participating drugs firms will furnish €21 million in
'in kind' contributions.
Martin Graf, Head of the Stem Cell Platform and coordinator
of the project at Roche, says: 'The aim of StemBANCC is to generate and
characterise 1,500 high quality human induced pluripotent stem cell [iPSC] lines
derived from 500 patients that can be used by researchers to study a range of
diseases, including diabetes and dementia'.
Induced pluripotent stem cells are created by reprogramming
normal adult cells so that they enter a state similar to that found in
embryonic stem cells and then can be made to grow into other types of cell. So
cells from patients' blood or skin can be used to generate other specialised cell
types - heart cells or neurons, for example - relevant to the disease being
investigated. These cells can then be used in laboratory tests for early stage
Because such cells contain patients' genes, they might include
genes implicated in the disease of interest. Dr Zameel Cader, a consultant neurologist at
the University of Oxford and principal scientist of StemBANCC says that iPSCs represent
'the perfect platform for finding drugs. It's superior because we are looking
directly at human cells from the patient, capturing the genetic complexity of
Currently, new compounds are likely to be screened in lab
cell lines that are amenable to study but bear little resemblance to patients'
Dr Sally Cowley, also from the University of Oxford, adds: 'Because the stem cells can be expanded
indefinitely, we can essentially produce an infinite number of these
patient-derived cells to work with. They can be stored, shipped around the
world, and potentially made accessible to any researcher anywhere'.
StemBANCC project will initially focus on disorders of the nervous system, such as neuropathic
pain and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, psychiatric disorders like
schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as diabetes.