Stem Cell Research: Profiles of Selected Research Groups

For the young scientist starting out now in the field of stem cell research, the horizons are unlimited. Whether your skills are in molecular or cellular biology, bioinformatics, electrophysiology, pharmacology, or the clinic, there is room to make a contribution. Christine Mummery, author of Next Wave?s Stem Cell Research: Career Prospects for Young Scientists and head of the stem cell group at the Netherlands's Hubrecht Laboratory, gives us a short profile of some research groups in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia.

The liberal political and ethical climate in the Netherlands allowed us to import existing cell lines pending legislation to allow de novo isolation. In the Hubrecht Laboratory (also known as the Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology), we were fortunate enough to have a long-standing collaboration with Martin Pera and Alan Trounson in Australia, and we were among the first they trained to culture human embryonic stem cells.

We are currently trying to identify factors that induce differentiation through transcriptional profiling and expression cloning and improving efficiencies of cardiomyocyte differentiation. Through collaboration with clinical cardiologists, we have developed a cardiac infarct model to assess restoration of function in mice and human cardiac biopsies as reference cells for the stem-cell-derived cardiomyocytes.

Embryonic Stem Cell International, which owns the commercial rights to the cells we use, has just made financing available for five research positions in the lab, three of which are still vacant. The Interuniversity Cardiology Institute of the Netherlands finances two additional positions.

We have already trained three groups in the use of human embryonic stem cells, including researchers at the biotech company IsoTis in Bilthoven, which has established a group to study differentiation to bone in these cells. This company has superb GMP facilities and already has tissue-reconstruction clinical trials running, using artificial bone implants seeded with bone stem cells. Their aim is to use embryonic stem cells in certain patients for whom their current technology is less suitable.

Countrywide, there is a Tissue Engineering Programme initiated by Jan Feijen of the University of Twente, for which financing for a first round is currently being distributed. It involves most major universities and IsoTis, and applications for a second, much larger, round are currently under review. This programme aims to evaluate both adult and embryonic stem cells in a number of different artificial matrices for their ability to mimic normal tissue function. Examples include bone, liver, heart, muscle, pancreas, and glial cells.

For those wishing to set up independent groups, the European Union is open to new initiatives in stem cell research, particularly using adult stem cells.

U.K. government grant-giving bodies as well as the Wellcome Trust are already financing stem cell research, and advertisements for postdocs and group leaders appear regularly in leading scientific journals.

The groups of Austin Smith in Edinburgh, Peter Andrews in Sheffield, and Roger Pedersen in Cambridge are certainly worth contacting for positions in the United Kingdom, as are James Thomson in Wisconsin, Douglas Melton at Harvard, Ron McKay at NIH, and John Gearhart at Johns Hopkins in the United States, and Pera, Trounson, Peter Mountford, and Peter Rathjen in Australia.

A substantial number of research positions at the postdoc, graduate, and technician levels should arise from current initiatives. In light of the strong background in the Netherlands for molecular and cell biology, genetics, materials science, and bioinformatics, it is likely that for those not wishing to venture abroad, the opportunities for carrying out internationally competitive research are available at home.

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