Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine

Stem Cells and Genetic Sciences offer the possibility of a completely new way of thinking in medicine. Conventional treatments for patients have been based on either surgery or drug therapy, treating conditions and illnesses that result largely from ageing. Stem cell science can help doctors predict and prevent illnesses long before they occur and the North East is rapidly becoming a world leader in the field.

Durham and Newcastle Universities have come together with their related NHS Trusts and a range of other partners to form the North East England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI). Their work looks at a range of stem cell types and scientists and clinicians are working together on developments that can be used in a real-life medical setting to transform lives.

Spin-out companies have already been created to develop the technologies and these are attracting industrial partners. These facilities will put the North East at the forefront of stem cell science nationally and internationally in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, human genetics, reproductive medicine, drug discovery and biopharmaceutical bioprocessing.

Large elements of the work are built upon the success of the International Centre for Life, in Newcastle, which has brought together different disciplines of scientists and clinicians with ethicists, social scientists, public educators and commercialisation agents.

Key Facts

  • Stem cell scientists, working at Durham University and the North East Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) have developed a more accurate way of identifying aggressive forms of bowel cancer, which it is hoped will lead to better treatment and survival rates.
  • Newcastle Human Embryonic Stem Cell Group is one of only a few research units to be awarded a Human Fetilisation Authority licence to undertake somatic cell nuclear transfer.
  • The University of Newcastle’s Institute of Human Genetics is one of Europe’s largest human genetics research centres, with world-leading research into embryonic, germline and adult stem cells.
  • Through the activities of the North East Stem Cell Insititute (NESCI), the region takes a joined-up approach to stem cell R&D and commercialisation by collaborating with the Universities of Newcastle and Durham, the National Health Service (NHS) and regional industry.
  • North East Englnad’s £10m Life Knowledge Park at the International Centre for Life, is one of only six UK genetic research centres aimed at fundamental improvements in human health.

Case Studies

Searching for medical breakthroughs


Stem cell research offers major hopes for breakthroughs in human conditions and one of the organisations leading the way is the Institute of Human Genetics, based at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle.

A research Institute of Newcastle University, the Institute’s research includes Identifying disease-causing genes and coming up with ways to treat and prevent illnesses.

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Simple test which could revolutionise cancer treatment


Undergoing treatment can be a deeply disturbing experience for cancer patients, not helped by the often debilitating side-effects of the drugs or interventions being used.

Patients often have to put up with everything from invasive surgery to stomach cramps and their hair falling out as their doctors work to ensure their cancer has been defeated.

But what if there was a test that could tell specialists whether or not a person would respond to the drug in question? Providing doctors with the best possible information to help combat these diseases is what drives an project run by Newcastle company Biosignatures.

The company’s work builds on existing research which has allowed doctors a better understanding of the way the cells and proteins of the body work.

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Specialist baby unit leads the way


Imagine not being able to pick up your crying baby until you have scrubbed your hands clean for three minutes and put on a protective gown. For a small number of parents, that’s the reality of their lives because their children are highly vulnerable to infection.

Helping them is the Bubble Foundation, a specialist unit for children with a rare, inherited condition, which means they are born without an immune system.

A team of dedicated professionals in Newcastle has developed an international reputation for the way they care for children with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or SCID. The only way of keeping the children safe from those infections is to care for them in a sterile bubble, which is what happens at the unit in Newcastle General Hospital. But not only is the team constantly improving the way they care for such children, it is also conducting extensive research into the causes and treatments of SCID.

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Acceleration of electric vehicle trials


North East England is to play a key part in the largest programme of real-world trials ever seen of electric and low-carbon cars. 35 cars developed in the region will be trialled with Nissan, Smith Electric Vehicles in partnership with LTI, AVID Vehicles, Liberty Electric Cars, Newcastle University and One North East all involved.

The project will include 15 Nissan cars, 10 Smith electric taxis, five Smith people carriers, a Smith executive minibus, two AVID saloon cars and two Liberty urban Range Rovers, alongside a network of charging points.

Newcastle University’s Transport Operations Research Group will monitor and model the performance and use of the vehicles

Newcastle Scientists working to ease the suffering of millions of people


Neuromuscular diseases are debilitating conditions that affect 300,000 people in Europe and 2.2 million across the planet.

Now, a team from Newcastle University’s Institute of Human Genetics is playing a crucial role in coming up with ways to tackle their debilitating effects.

Known as NMD, neuromuscular diseases affect either the muscles themselves or the nerves controlling the muscles, causing conditions that result in chronic long-term disability, and even early death from lung or heart failure.

The conditions, including those known as muscular dystrophies, are currently incurable but the Institute has been working as part of a European network on treatments that could ease the suffering of patients.

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Carbon Capture Technology – How coal could be king once more


A team of North-East scientists has embarked on a major study of a technology that could help reduce the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The work by the Newcastle University-led project team links expertise developed in the region’s coalmining industry with cutting-edge modern research.

At the heart of the project is Underground Coal Gasification with Carbon Capture and Storage (UCG-CSS).

The process involves the gasification of coal in the seam through the introduction of hot steam and oxygen. The resultant gas mixture, syngas, can be used as chemical feedstock for products ranging from plastics to liquid transport fuels or for driving turbines to generate electricity.

Under the leadership of the Sir Joseph Swan Institute of Energy Research, the university team brought together leading UK specialists to investigate the potential, funded by One North East.

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New and Renewable Energy Centre (NaREC) powers the future


Technology experts from the UK’s leading renewable energy R&D centre, which is based in the North-East, are working on ways that communities can generate and distribute their own energy.

The New and Reneweable Energy Centre (NaREC), based in Blyth, Northumberland, has been working with its counterpart at the National Renewable Energy Centre of Spain (CENER) to create new ways of generating and distributing power from small-scale renewables.

NAREC also works with major industrial players with a major speciality developing more efficient ways of harnessing wind energy.

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Making breakthroughs in medical testing


Orla Protein Technologies, based in Newcastle, one of the most successful spin-outs from work carried out at Newcastle University, specialises in the way proteins can be used.

That work, in the field of nano-biotechnology, includes developing hand-held sensor devices that can be used to diagnose the likes of heart disease and infections through the analysis of drops of blood.

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Northumbria University and Procter & Gamble join forces to revolutionise new product develop


Pioneering research which could help transform some of the world’s most commonly used products is being carried out by Northumbria University and Procter & Gamble.

Research by a team at Northumbria University’s School of Applied Sciences, led by computational chemist Dr Marcus Durrant, has developed a radical approach to the develop of new catalysts, the vital component found in the manufacture of many of the world’s products.

Dr Durrant recognised as a world leader in his field, and his team have joined forces with Procter & Gamble to trial their new approach which could help revolutionise drug production and the production of plastics. Their new found approach is seen as critical in tackling problems where traditional experimental chemistry has struggled to find an answer.

Robotics system set to revolutionise cleaning of ships


An automated robotic cleaning system that removes marine growth from the hull of a ship is being pioneered at Newcastle University.

Set to revolutionnise the cleaning and management of ships the robot offers a solution to high fuel costs and marine related pollution while removing harmful, non-indigenous species that could be transferred to local waters.

Operating like an automatic carpet cleaner, the robot has been developed out of an EU-funded project called HISMAR (Hull Indentification System for Marine Autonomous Robotics) and is able to navigate its own way across the ship’s hull.

Newcastle University’s Jonathan Heslop a researcher on the project, said: “All other developed cleaning or inspection systems currently available are remotely controlled during their operation, requiring highly skilled and experienced operators to effectively clean the hull, while the ship is out of operation and usually out of water.

The advantage of the HISMAR robot is that it is an autonomous system so it can continue cleaning with the ship remaining in service – feeding back hull information as it does so – resulting in very little build of growth, reduced fuel costs and much less pollution.”