August 21st 2012 - Collaboration between two universities in the USA and UK, supported by funding from the SETsquared Partnership (www.setsquared.co.uk), looks set to help improve the results of stem cell therapies for brain and spinal cord injuries, strokes and diseases such as Parkinson’s.
Researchers from the University of California, Irvine and the labs of Drs. Michael Hughes and Fatima Labeed at the Centre for Biomedical Engineering, University of Surrey have worked together on identifying the most effective stem cells, helping to increase the benefits from treatment.
The researchers met at a meeting in Bath organised by SETsquared. Funding provided by SETsquared was used primarily for travel, and also to buy some supplies needed for the research work. The funding was part of a £1.5m award from the Office of Science and Technology (OST) in April 2006 to create relationships of lasting value with commercial focus around the high-technology research and development clusters of Southern England with those in Southern California. The programme provided a five times return on the investment made by government. This is just an additional outcome to emerge from a relationship seeded through the programme.
“Without the support and funding from SETsquared, this collaboration simply would not have happened,” said Lisa Flanagan, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Department of Neurology and Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, University of California, Irvine.
“This project is an excellent example of how a relatively small financial stimulus, combined with networking meetings, can make a massive difference to collaborative research,” said Graham Harrison, Partnership Director at SETsquared.
Stem cells hold the promise of improving how we can repair the body following injury and disease. For the brain and spinal cord, stem cell therapy is undergoing clinical trials, but one of the limiting factors is that half or less of the stem cells used have a beneficial effect, and it is difficult to tell the cells apart and work out which ones are effective.
The research project addresses this issue by using the biophysical characteristics of stem cells to distinguish them. The team used a technique called dielectrophoresis (DEP) to analyse stem cells, and discovered that cell membrane capacitance predicts the treatment potential of stem cells.
“While we had already started to use DEP, Drs. Hughes and Labeed showed us how to get more out of it, which was the real turning point for us,” says Flanagan. “Although there’s lots of work to do, our research is showing real promise.”
About the SETsquared Partnership
The SETsquared Partnership (http://www.setsquared.co.uk) is the enterprise collaboration of the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. Together, the universities employ 7,400 academic staff; earn nearly 10% of the UK’s higher education research budget; and produce 11% of all UK university patents.
The partnership has a 10-year track record of supporting companies through its innovation centres, which provide access to industry specialists, investors and experienced entrepreneurs. SETsquared currently supports over 250 early stage high-tech, high growth potential businesses, and 88% of its incubated companies are still in business three years on. In the past five years, nearly £0.75bn in investment funding has been raised by spin outs and incubated companies.
SETsquared supports its student population of over 90,000 graduate and undergraduates to gain hands on business skills and entrepreneurial training through experiential inter-university activities. The Partnership also provides opportunities for industry to access academic ideas with commercial potential and develop collaborative R&D relationships. The Partnership seeks to promote the impact, economically and socially, of its institutions’ research and enterprise activities.
About the University of Surrey
The University of Surrey is one of the UK’s leading professional, scientific and technological universities with a world class research profile and a reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Ground-breaking research at the University is bringing direct benefit to all spheres of life – helping industry to maintain its competitive edge and creating improvements in the areas of health, medicine, space science, the environment, communications, defence and social policy. Programmes in science and technology have gained widespread recognition and it also boasts flourishing programmes in dance and music, social sciences, management and languages and law. In addition to the campus on 150 hectares just outside Guildford, Surrey, the University also owns and runs the Surrey Research Park, which provides facilities for 140 companies employing 2,700 staff.
The Sunday Times names Surrey as ‘The University for Jobs' which underlines the university’s growing reputation for providing high quality, relevant degrees.
Surrey is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.
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