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Launch of Scottish-Californian stem cell research

St Andrews research scientists are to work together with scientists in California on new medical research that could lead to major breakthroughs for people living with life-threatening conditions.

Professors Frank Gunn-Moore and Kishan Dholakia from the University of St Andrews – together with their counterparts in California – will carry out the ground-breaking research as part of the Scottish Universities/Stanford University (SU2P) programme.

The study will examine how to grow new stem cells to treat people living with brain or spinal cord injuries or conditions like Parkinson’s disease.

First Minister Alex Salmond heard details during a visit today to Stanford University, on the final day of a four day trade mission to the United States.

The First Minister said:

“Scotland has some of the best scientific minds in the world and our university sector is truly world-class. We have five universities in the top 200 in the world, we rank first in the world in research productivity per unit of GDP and we are second in the world in research impact.

“Working with researchers here at Stanford, academics from St Andrews, Heriot Watt, Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities are at the cutting-edge of scientific endeavour that could transform the lives of millions of people.

“This research has the potential to lead to incredible medical breakthroughs that could not only give new hope to millions but contribute enormously to the economies of both Scotland and California.

“The SU2P programme, of which this new research is part, is an excellent example of how we can harness our own country’s talents and work in collaboration with international partners to achieve more than the sum of our parts.”

Professor Frank Gunn-Moore of the University of St Andrews said:

“Via SU2P, this has been a wonderful link between our University and Stanford University. By combining our complimentary skills from our Universities we are developing truly world leading technologies. The technique that St Andrews has been pioneering is the use of light to transfect cells. We call this “photoporation” where we have used lasers to punch tiny holes into cells (for example stem cells) and insert genes of interest into these cells. The technology is being developed so that anyone can use it.”

Professor Tom Baer, Executive Director of the Stanford Photonics Research Center (SPRC) and the SU2P programme at Stanford University said:

“Through the SU2P programme our Scottish collaborators are following the formula that has proven so successful at Stanford and in Silicon Valley: combining the intellectual resources found at leading Universities with the innovation and entrepreneurial ethos found in early stage companies. Translating advances in the life sciences into medical practice and transforming cutting-edge technologies into ground-breaking diagnostic tools have been major focuses of stem cell research and applied physics activities at Stanford. The SU2P programme will build on these Stanford strengths and the pioneering work in stem cell science that have been the hallmark of medical research in Scotland.”

The SU2P programme actively encourages links with business – with the support of Scottish Development International – to turn scientific advances into commercial advantage for Scotland and California.

Notes to News Editors

The research has the potential to regenerate damaged tissue and repair injuries caused by heart attacks, spinal cord injuries and brain injury caused by stroke or Parkinson’s disease.

The St Andrews team will work with research groups at Heriot Watt and Stanford Universities to examine how stem cells grow and divide and how they change shape to form different types of tissue – all with ultimate aim of working out the safest and most effective way to transplant them into patients. It combines expertise in microfluidics from Heriot Watt University and microscopic laser surgery of single cells and image analysis computer software from the University of St Andrews with Stanford expertise in stem cell science, regenerative medicine, and optical instrumentation design.

Technology development supported in part by the SU2P collaboration has already resulted in the launch of a venture funded company in the area of reproductive medicine, key patented inventions, as well as a recently awarded grant of $5M US from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to explore applications, particularly in the area of women’s health. Scotland has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with CIRM, comprising a commitment to support continued collaboration between stem cell research institutions in Scotland and California.

Participants in the stem cell programme:

The work performed at the University of St Andrews is a collaboration between the Schools of Biology (Prof Frank Gunn-Moore) and Physics (Prof Kishan Dholakia).

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