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08 June 2007

Surrey and Irvine to investigate use of nanomaterials in stem cell therapies

University of Surrey researchers, Dr Alan Dalton and Dr Richard Sear, have received grants totalling £100k from the SETsquared Applied Collaborative Research Programme and the EPSRC to support collaborative work with the University of California, Irvine, researching the use of nanomaterials in stem cell growth.

The award will bring together Surrey’s world-class expertise in materials and nano-technology with leading stem cell researchers at Irvine. It will develop new methods for studying and growing human embryonic stem cells, leading to new stem cell based therapies to treat human diseases. The research will tackle a key problem in growing embryonic stem cells, possible contamination from using 'feeder' cells and nutrients derived from animals. Surrey’s work will lead to the development of wholly synthetic materials to create the structures on which stem cells are grown, reducing contamination of the new stem cells and increasing their safety.

The research has been made possible by the existence of the SETsquared partnership between the four SETsquared partners (Universities of Surrey, Bath, Bristol and Southampton) and the University of California, San Diego and University of California, Irvine. The programme supports collaboration by providing pump priming funding to allow academics from the UK and US to meet and discuss detailed plans for initial experiments and proposal development. The programme also provides support in bid writing.

Further funding will be sought to develop the work further and commercialise it. Key polymer and nanotechnology companies have already expressed an interest in developing applications based on the results of this research.

Professor Peter Donovan, co-director of the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at the University of California, Irvine comments that the work: "could facilitate methods for expanding stem cells in the scale required for both cell-based therapies and for high throughput drug screening. In addition, it may well turn out to be necessary to use such technology to develop certain specialised cells, such as bone, cartilage or muscle cell types which normally develop under stress."

The University of Surrey’s Research & Enterprise Support department (RES) has been instrumental in setting up the UK/US programme and in supporting the development of this bid. RES will also provide ongoing support in IP protection and commercialisation.

Media enquiries: Stuart Miller, Press Office at the University of Surrey, Tel: 01483 689314 or E-mail: s.e.miller@surrey.ac.uk