Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute

Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute

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Harnessing the power of stem cells

Pioneering research and therapies to transform the future of medicine

Stem cells are uniquely able to make all the many different specialised cells in the body, and have the capacity to self-renew. Because of their fundamental importance to human biology, stem cells hold incredible potential for alleviating suffering and transforming the lives of millions.

University of Cambridge scientists have long been at the forefront of pioneering stem cell discoveries. Embryonic stem cells were first identified by Sir Martin Evans and, subsequently, Sir John Gurdon showed how mature cells could be reprogrammed back to their original stem-cell state in the laboratory. Both men received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their breakthroughs.

Today, the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute is a world-leading research centre with a powerful mission: to transform human health through a deep understanding of stem cell biology. With more than 300 stem cell scientists – biological, clinical, and physical – collaborating under one roof, our interdisciplinary work encompasses the full journey of medical discovery, from exploring the fundamental mechanisms of stem cell biology to undertaking ground-breaking clinical trials of potential new therapies. The Institute is the physical heart of a wider and vibrant stem cell community in Cambridge, which totals over 700 scientists.

Tackling the root causes of disease and promoting healthy ageing

The fundamental biology of stem cells is important because their dysfunction underlies a wide range of global challenges in human health, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and neuro-degenerative disorders, including dementia and Parkinson’s disease. It is through understanding what goes wrong within stem cells, to cause this dysfunction, that we can lay the groundwork for future advances in prevention, diagnosis and treatment across a wide variety of diseases.

Research into stem cells could also hold the key to healthy ageing. Their capacity to act as the body's internal repair system – regenerating lost or damaged cells – declines progressively with age. Through studying this phenomenon across multiple organ systems, our scientists are finding ways to counteract stem cell deterioration and extend the number of years lived in good health.

Precise, personalised treatment

Stem cells provide a robust modelling platform for discovering new methods of diagnosis and treatment. Using human cell samples, our researchers are able to grow tissue in the laboratory and model particular diseases (e.g. cancer). This allows them to observe disease progression and test interventions, such as repurposing existing drugs or deploying new gene therapies.

Importantly, stem cell models are specific to individuals. In order to move beyond the traditional 'one-size-fits-all' approach to therapies, we are working to improve efficacy by developing treatments that are tailored to a patient's particular disease type.

Regenerative medicine

Stem cell medicine holds immense promise. Through exploiting the regenerative power of stem cells, our aim is to change the landscape of regenerative medicine by enabling doctors to repair or replace damaged tissues and, one day, even entire organs. To make this vision a reality, we are developing novel interventions for a broad range of conditions – some of which are already in clinical trials – including:

  • testing whether transplanting stem cells directly into the brain could repair cells destroyed by Parkinson's;
  • exploring whether stem cell therapies could repair nerve cells damaged by multiple sclerosis, treat rare genetic diseases in children, and heal arthritic joints; and
  • developing methods through which stem cells could be used to produce blood, to engineer an artificial liver, or to regenerate the heart following a heart attack.

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Cornelius Riethdorf

Associate Director — Clinical Medicine


+44 (0)77542 307 708

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Cambridge is a world-leading centre of biological research, pioneering stem cell science, and the fight against cancer and infectious diseases.
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