leading global universities researching stem cells


    As nuclei of talent and knowledge, research universities play an integral role in the advancement of healthcare and medicine. Many of the biggest breakthroughs in stem cell research have come out of their specialist faculties and institutes, and today more and more of their work is helping to drive forward the biomedical revolution.

    It’s by no coincidence some of history’s groundbreaking discoveries broke out of places like Stanford, Oxford, and Harvard University. They are the perfect environment for them to occur. With a constant stream of new faces and talent, their thinking stays relevant and fresh, and with continued monetary support from public and private organizations, their resources and technology never slide from the cutting-edge.

    From the very beginnings when Dr’s Till and McCulloch proved the existence of stem cells over 50 years ago, to the applications of stem cells from our teeth in treatments and the recent shift to personalized medicine, research universities have been there at the center of it all.

    And today, with the traditional model of healthcare failing to stand up to the big health concerns of the 21st century, increasing interest is mounting in more targeted and personalized approaches like that of stem cell therapy and epigenetics.

    Universities and private organizations around the world are ramping up their involvement in studies and clinical trials, so much so that a unifying body, known as The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), was founded to help regulate rising activity in the area.

    With more than 4,000 members including stem cell scientists and leading authorities, the ISSCR is an association which fills an important role in the dialogue around international standards for stem cell research.

    By acting as a central link between organizations studying stem cells, it opens up a free exchange of information on stem cell research and helps to ensure all stakeholders involved, from researchers to sponsors to clinical trial participants, are subject to a certain standard of quality and care.

    Much progress has already been made. But looking forward, there are still many challenges to face and questions to answer for stem cell research. Thankfully, some of the world’s finest minds and institutions are on the case.

    Here we look at those in the US and the UK which are producing some of the most exciting developments in stem cell research and helping to bring closer the reality of personalized and regenerative medicine.

    Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Stanford University

    For over a quarter of a decade, Stanford has stood as a world leader in stem cell research and today sits at the very forefront of institutions leading the biomedical revolution.

    At their Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, revered stem cell researcher Dr. Irving Weissman leads a team whose core aim is to translate discoveries in stem cell research into new medical therapies. What’s unique about Stanford’s approach is their work keeps a close eye on the entrepreneurial endeavors of Silicon Valley, while also stressing efforts to train the next generation of stem cell researchers.

    Stanford researchers were behind one recent stem cell therapy trial that dominated the headlines. The impressive results of the trial demonstrated the effectiveness of stem cell therapy in the treatment of patients who’d previously suffered strokes.

    The Oxford Stem Cell Institute (OSCI), Oxford University

    As a network of 45 core and affiliated laboratories across Oxford, the OSCI’s work is directed toward tackling aging and the huge health concerns that come with it.

    Their wide range of expertise spans the depth and breadth of biology and aims to do away with the traditional barriers posed by medical taxonomies, in order to develop more effective stem cell and anti-cancer therapies.

    The institute’s main areas of interest revolve around combating the greatest health concerns of our age. They hope to do this through better understanding the environments which generate physiological and cancer stem cells and exploiting this knowledge for therapeutic benefit in cancer and personalized treatment.

    Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Harvard University

    An organization steeped in history and international acclaim, The Harvard Stem Cell Institute is where you’ll find the largest concentration of biomedical researchers in the world — making it the biggest institution of its kind.

    Their 1,000 strong community of scientists have spent the last decade working tirelessly to understand the mechanisms in and around stem cells, as well as how they can harness their incredible potential. Their efforts paid off and today their work is realigned toward bringing stem cell-based therapies to patients as soon as possible.

    You don’t have to look far to see the impact they’re having; recently the Harvard Stem Cell Institute partnered with biomedical organization Semma Therapeutics to accelerate a new off-the-shelf stem cell product for diabetes through clinical trials.

    Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, Cambridge University

    Supported by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Stem Cell Institute has developed a robust and far-reaching reputation for its work in stem cell biology and medicine.

    Covering the whole spectrum of regenerative medicine, from the prevention and diagnosis of disease to therapeutic treatments, their specialist teams are striving to refine understanding of the primary mechanisms of stem and progenitor cells.

    Earlier this month (July 2016), the team at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute published the results of a study in the journal Nature, which showed how they identified, for the first time, the ‘cell of origin’ — the first cell from which cancer grows — of the most common type of skin cancer.

    Yale Stem Cell Center, Yale University

    Funded by The Connecticut Stem Cell Research Fund (CSCRF), the Yale Stem Cell Center at Yale University explores every area of stem cell research, from Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSCs) to genomics, across their four state-of-the-art core laboratories.

    The purpose of the center is not only to apply stem cell therapies in the wider context of healthcare, but at the same time educate and increase public understanding of stem cell biology.

    One of the more recent findings to be released from the center uncovered a previously unrecognized link between cancer cells and healthy cells, and the mechanism which they use to recruit the body’s healthy cells to promote tumor growth.

    Centre For Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine, King’s College London

    The Centre For Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine at KCL, with its close relationship with the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, sits at the forefront of cancer and genomics research.

    Researchers are in a dynamic position to help bring effective cell-based therapies to the masses, and in their attempt to do so are currently strengthening understanding of genetics, genomics, and stem cells across fields like molecular genetics and genetic epidemiology.

    Professor Watt, Director of the Centre For Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine and celebrated figure in the world of regenerative medicine, was recently announced as this year’s winner of the FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award.

    Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, University College London

    Thanks to partnerships with the likes of the MRC National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) and the London Centre for Nanotechnology, the UCL Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine takes a broad and multi-disciplinary approach to stem cell research.

    Their work extends beyond the Medical Sciences and examines the societal and socioeconomic implications that personalized and regenerative medicine may have. And yet, their research is also firmly seated in stem cell therapy and tissue regeneration as we saw when their team played a pivotal part in the stem-cell based tracheal replacement in a 2-year boy in 2012.

    The Broad Stem Cell Research Center, University of California (UCLA)

    Founded on the premise of doing nothing less than revolutionizing healthcare, The Broad Stem Cell Research Center‘s aim is to foster the creation of personalized cellular therapies and regenerative medical applications.

    Using the latest methods and technology such as synthetic chemistry and computational modeling, their research programs explore treatments for a range of health concerns including genetic disease, musculoskeletal damage and degeneration, and metabolic disorders.

    Professor of biological chemistry at UCLA and member of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center, Michael Grunstein, was recently awarded this year’s Gruber Prize in Genetics for his pioneering discovery in the field of epigenetics. Prof. Grunstein found that genetic coding is not only determined by our inherited DNA, but the accompanying proteins called ‘histones’ that package and order our DNA.

    The sum total of resources directed toward advancing stem cell research is truly remarkable. But that doesn’t mean the feat presented by these architects of life is any less challenging.

    That challenge is being fully acted upon, with incremental steps being made forward every day.  And in the effort to make the final touches in understanding, policy, and practice, universities are increasing their attention on stem cells and blurring boundaries between faculties, while private and public organizations are joining forces across a number of different sectors.  All to allow us and our families to be able to reap the full benefits of stem cell treatments in the very near future.



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