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Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute


At the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, a number of researchers are involved in COVID-19 research projects working collaboratively with researchers across the University of Cambridge and at other institutions across the UK.

In addition to these research projects, a number of clinically-trained members of the Institute have returned to active clinical duties.

Find out more about these projects in our #ResponsiveResearch videos, a series of short interviews exploring how researchers at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute are adapting their research to study COVID-19.

We will continue to add to this page with further information.

Covid-19 research projects:

Professor Robin Franklin's lab and collaborators in the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology & Infectious Disease have identified genetic and structural similarities between SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). The team have found key structural similarities between the coronavirus and the rubella virus – in the Macro domain, almost a third (29%) of the amino acids were the same for both viruses. The team put forward a hypothesis in a pre-print on Medrxiv that MMR could offer some protection to vulnerable groups against poor outcomes in COVID-19 infection. This study is based on analysis of genetic and epidemiological data, and at this stage is simply put forward as an hypothesis - it is not a laboratory or clinical study. Find out more in our interview with Dr Adam Young.

Professor Bertie Göttgens and Dr Elisa Laurenti supported a project led by Professor Ken Smith (Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology & Infectious Disease). The Göttgens lab deployed their world-leading expertise in single cell analysis to reveal molecular signatures associated with poor disease outcome. The research also investigated how the stem cell compartment and the immune system responded to COVID-19. Read more on the outcome of this study here

Dr Sanjay Sinha’s lab are looking at cardiovascular dysfunction in COVID-19 in vitro using the lab’s established human embryonic stem cell derived-cardiomyocyte and vascular cell models. The group are examining viral proteins and pseudotypes in human cardiomyocytes and vascular cells and ways this can be modulated by modifying the ACE2 viral receptor or accessory proteases such as TMPRSS2 and will study the effects of the immune response on these cells. The aim of this project is to provide information on the cellular and molecular responses of human cardiomyocytes to COVID-19 infection and identify potential ways to inhibit cardiac dysfunction in high risk patients. Find out more in our interview with postdoc Dr Maria Colzani.

Dr Joo-Hyeon Lee’s group are supporting a project led by Professor Kathryn Lilley (Department of Biochemistry), Professor Anne Willis (MRC Toxicology Unit) and Dr James Thaventhiran (MRC Toxicology Unit). The project aims to identify the RNA binding proteins required for the efficient intracellular targeting, transcription, modification, processing, translation and encapsidation of viral RNAs and brings together a team of researchers with broad research backgrounds in Cambridge including experts in upper respiratory airway organoids (Lee), Immunology (Thaventhiran), RNA translation control (Willis), RNA binding proteome (Lilley) and Virology (Goodfellow). The Lee lab is providing human airway organoids which are known to highly express the ACE2 receptor.

The lab are also working on a second project to study SARS-CoV-2 infection in human alveolar organoid models and are developing feeder-free robust cultures of human alveolar organoids, and investigating pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 infection in their models in collaboration with Dr Young Seok Ju, Dr Byeong-Sun Choi, Dr Gou Young Koh, and Dr Young Tae Kim in Korea.

Dr Fotios Sampaziotis and Prof Ludovic Vallier’s labs have been using organoids as a platform to study COVID-19 screen compounds, downregulating the expression of the main viral receptor ACE2 and exploring whether this downregulation can reduce SARS-CoV-2 infection. Their work identifies clinically approved compounds that could be repurposed as a potential treatment for COVID-19. In a multidisciplinary collaborative effort, bringing together groups from the CSCI (Joo, Sinha), CITIID (Dougan), Oxford University (Bucszacki) and clinicians from Addenbrooke’s hospital (Department of Hepatology, Department of Surgery), they validated their in vitro data in human organs perfused ex-vivo and in retrospective studies using large patient cohorts. A pre-print of this work can be found here ( The next step is testing these compounds in the context of clinical trials.

Dr Cédric Ghevaert’s group are working with Professor Alistair Poole and Professor Andrew Davidson at the University of Bristol on a project investigating viral interactions with megakaryocytes and looking at the effect on platelet release and function because abnormal blood clotting is an important feature in very ill patients. The team will generate stocks of frozen megakaryocytes to send to collaborators in Bristol. Find out more in our interview with the Ghevaert group.

Dr Ingo Ringshausen's lab are carrying out a project aiming to harness the inherent immunosuppressive properties of allogenic mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) which can be used to treat severe inflammation in the lungs. The team are seeking to identify therapies using small-molecules that could address patients experiencing severe Covid-19 inflammation in their lungs without the need for cell transplantation.

Professor David Rowitch's lab are working on a project to test an alternative enzyme to enhance COVID-19 antibody testing. This pilot project will serve as a proof of concept, providing a potentially valuable resource and alternative in COVID-19 antibody screenings.

Professor George Vassiliou’s lab are investigating the hypothesis that clonal haematopoiesis may be linked to increased severity of Covid-19, if proven this would transform disease understanding, help identify at-risk individuals and support immediate initiation of relevant therapeutic approaches. The team have received a European Hematology Association COVID-19 in Hematology Research Grant for their project.

Further information about COVID-19 research across the University can be found on the University's dedicated COVID-19 research page and the Cambridge Fighting COVID website.