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New stem cell research funded as part of UK-Japan collaborations to tackle global challenges

last modified Sep 22, 2020 03:41 PM
Professor Austin Smith from the Wellcome – MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute is one of the first round of researchers from the UK and Japan funded to tackle major global challenges in collaborative projects announced today, Friday 9th August 2019.

The projects are the first to be funded through the Joint Call between UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), part of the Fund for International Collaboration.

Professor Austin Smith will work in collaboration with Prof Hiromitsu Nakauchi at the University of Tokyo to investigate the potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative and transplantation medicine.

“Pluripotent stem cells are ‘master cells’ that we can instruct to turn into every kind of cell that makes up the human body, meaning they offer a real possibility to replace damaged or diseased tissue”, explains Professor Smith.  “This project, in collaboration with colleagues in Tokyo, aims to overcome barriers to the use of pluripotent stem cells in creating safe and fully functional cells and organs for therapeutic use”.

The UKRI-JSPS Joint Call supports globally leading and innovative collaborative research projects in Life Sciences and Environmental Sciences, offering access to facilities, knowledge and supporting UK universities and researchers to develop long-lasting partnerships with centres of excellence.

UKRI Executive Champion for International, Professor Andrew Thompson, said: “Life and environmental sciences are areas of research excellence for both the UK and Japan, and the projects announced today will harness the expertise of both countries to deliver benefits for our health and the environment.

“This demonstrates how the Fund for International Collaboration is strengthening collaboration between the UK and fellow R&D leaders throughout the world to deliver new knowledge and societal and economic impact.”


Other projects in the life sciences funded in this round include:

Genome stability established through epigenome plasticity during ageing and rejuvenation

Masashi Narita, University of Cambridge; Yasuyuki Ohkawa, Kyushu University

The project aims to understand how epigenomes – proteins and chemical modifications bound to DNA that are crucial to human development – change as we grow older. The researchers will develop new technologies and models to increase knowledge in this area, which could then be used in the development of new treatments for cancers which are linked to the ageing process.

 Shared challenges to form a spindle without centrosomes in plants and animals

Hiro Ohkura, University of Edinburgh; Gohta Goshima, Nagoya University

The researchers aim to generate valuable insights into the cell divisions that lead to egg production in humans and other animals, and the growth and development of plants. Through this greater understanding, the researchers aim to generate impact across health and agriculture, through regenerative medicine and the development of new crops which are bigger or able to regenerate, for example.

Functional interplay of ciliary trafficking complexes and motor proteins

David Stephens, University of Bristol; Kazuhisa Nakayama, Kyoto University

Cilia – microscopic, hair-like structures that extend from the surface of cells – are essential for human and animal development and are important in the formation and maintenance of bone, kidney function, signalling in the brain and many more body functions. This fundamental bioscience project aims to provide a fuller understanding of their structure and function, which has relevance in a wide range of fields such as the development of pharmaceuticals to target common cancers.

Adapted from a press release by the UKRI.