Stem cells for human use are to be made in a university lab in the first medical programme of its kind in Ireland.
Scientists behind the new facility at the National University of Ireland Galway will aim to produce adult cells to combat conditions like arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.
Stem cells created at the lab will be used in clinical trials following regulatory approval – the first of which is to test their effects on critical limb ischemia, a common complication associated with diabetes which often results in amputation.
The cells, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), will undergo safety tests after being isolated from bone marrow from donors and grown in the laboratory to generate sufficient quantities.
The university said it will position it as a global player in regenerative medicine.
NUI Galway’s Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland is the first facility on the island of Ireland to receive a licence from the Irish Medicines Board to manufacture culture-expanded stem cells for human use.
And it is one of less than half a dozen in Europe authorised for the process.
President of NUI Galway Dr Jim Browne said: “Developing Galway’s role as med-tech hub of global standing, the Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland captures NUI Galway’s commitment to bring bold ideas to life.
“Innovation can bridge the gap between patient and provider and meet the needs of industry and the wider society in a balanced way.”
Stem cells are best described as serving as the body’s repair mechanism and in recent years science has isolated them from tissues such as bone marrow and fat to recreate them in laboratory settings.
The use of embryonic stem cells is however controversial. They can be programmed to grow into any type of cell in the body but with the advancement of science adult skin cells are now being used to create a stem cell that is very similar to embryonic versions.
Professor Tim O’Brien, director of the Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland, said: “The presence of this facility in Ireland positions us well to develop new therapies for a broad array of clinical problems which do not have effective treatments today.”
Sean Sherlock, the junior minister responsible for research and innovation, opened the new facility which was borne out of the university’s regenerative medicines institute.
“Stem cell technology, developed in the first instance to help patients with diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and critical limb ischemia, can also create sustainable growth and jobs in Ireland’s smart economy by making researchers’ visions a reality,” he said.
Some 70% of pharmaceutical companies have regenerative medicine therapies in development, with 575 active trials in cell and gene therapy under way.
There are more than 1,900 cell therapy clinical trials ongoing worldwide with regenerative medicine products generating more than $1bn (€730m) in revenue in 2012.