Graphic of lung stem cells

The power of collaboration in stem cell research and training

  • Research

Collaboration and the sharing of knowledge and expertise have always been central to RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences’ ethos of learning and innovation.

Recent developments in stem cell research and training at RCSI have demonstrated the impact that international collaboration, in particular, can have.

Stem cells are the cells in the body from which all other cells with specific functions are generated. They are the only cells in the body that can naturally generate new cell types and are found in embryos and in adult tissue such as bone marrow. The cells created by stem cells become either new stem cells or specialised cells such as lung, blood, brain, heart muscle, or bone cells.

Analysis of stem cell behaviour is important as it can help scientists to understand how diseases develop and how to generate new cells to replace damaged cells, and to test the effectiveness and safety of various treatments.

Making an impact

Professor Killian Hurley, Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at RCSI and a Consultant in Respiratory Medicine has worked with researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Centre for Regenerative Medicine Boston (CReM) in Boston University to develop a new tool that can help predict the behaviour of stem cells. 

In the study published in Nature Biotechnology, the international team of researchers developed a computational toolkit for stem cell analysis called Coherent Sparse Optimisation (CoSpar). This toolkit will assist scientists globally in understanding stem cell behaviour and to apply this knowledge to transplant and regenerative medicine.

The findings of the study will have an impact on the treatment of conditions and diseases such as genetic lung diseases, spinal cord injuries, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

Treatments through collaboration

Professor Hurley’s team has also been part a successful collaboration with COST (Cooperation for Science and Technology in Europe) to provide stem cell training for scientists in his lab in the Education and Research Centre at RCSI.

As part of the one-year COST programme, scientists from across Europe were trained at RCSI to work with adult stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells) to make ‘lung-on-a-dish’ models, as well as generating a biobank to share these patient stem cells. It is hoped that this type of stem cell technology will lead to improved treatment for interstitial lung diseases, a group of progressive scarring lung conditions which affects adults and children.

Working on the same problems together across the European Research Area and globally, it is hoped that this type of technology and collaboration will help researchers to find better treatments for children and adults suffering with these devastating lung diseases.

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