Early data from NUI Galway underpins case for stem cell treatment in heart disea

Friday, 25 February 2005

-Stem cell treatments to be performed in Ireland in less than ten years-

Researchers at NUI Galway have commenced research into adult stem cell therapies for heart disease, arthritis and spinal cord injury at a new €19 million Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) which was officially opened today (Friday) by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Minister Micheál Martin, TD. REMEDI is the leading centre in Ireland doing stem cell research and one of a limited number of centres in Europe combining the technologies of stem cell and gene therapy to regenerate and repair tissue.

Researchers at NUI Galway have said that stem cell therapy has enormous potential for the treatment of many incurable diseases including heart disease, arthritis and neurological disorders such as spinal cord, Parkinsons Disease and Alzheimer's. Early data suggests that delivery of stem cells to the heart following heart attack enables regeneration of the damaged tissue and some restoration of function.

Dr. Frank Barry, REMEDI scientific director and stem cell expert explains, "Adult stem cell treatment is likely to have a dramatic effect on patient recovery and provides us with the potential of treating previously incurable diseases. We are very excited about early data which suggests that stem cell therapy will be potentially effective in repairing heart tissues.

Other research into arthritis also underpins the case for stem cell therapy. Stem cell delivery into arthritic joints stimulates a significant amount of repair of damaged tissues and prevents the sort of degenerative changes that you see associated with arthritis. There is still a great deal of work to be done before these therapies become widely available but I believe that stem cell treatments will be performed in Ireland in less than ten years."

REMEDI was established in 2004 through a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Centre for Science Engineering and Technology (CSET) award and industry funding totalling €19 million. REMEDI is supported by industry partners Medtronic and Charles River Laboratories. REMEDI is initially employing 36 researchers in the National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science at NUI Galway, the only centre in the country that contains a state of the art facility for generation of products for human gene therapy research.

Referring to the strong links NUI Galway has forged with industry, Minister Martin said: "Ireland remains at the forefront of the medical devices sector in Europe. This sector will continue to be a major employer and economic contributor in this country but it is a challenge for the Irish government, industry and other stakeholders to increase the level of research being carried out in both indigenous and multinational companies. We must continue to forge the links between academia and industry. NUI Galway has played an important role in forging these links in the West of Ireland and providing industry in this region with access to a pool of highly qualified graduates".

A total of €4 million has been contributed to the research programme by REMEDI partners in particular Medtronic, the world's largest medical devices company and Charles River Laboratories. Commenting on the importance of academic links and the West of Ireland as a location, Gerry Kilcommins, Vice President of Operations & General Manager of the Medtronic Galway site, added, "Medical technology has become one of the country s largest industry sectors and Ireland is recognised as a global centre of excellence for the development and manufacture of medical devices. Medtronic s location in the West of Ireland, amongst a cluster of the world s leading medical technology companies, provides us with access to highly trained research and development experts and third level institutions, like NUI Galway, allowing Medtronic to increase our level of R&D activity with highly commendable results."

Professor Tim O'Brien, Director of REMEDI, Professor of Medicine at NUI Galway and a clinician at University College Hospital Galway with expertise in gene therapy research, added: "What we are talking about here is translational research – bringing the discoveries made in the lab to the clinic and the patient. This is a complicated process in which the interest of patients and the public must always be central. Our research will lead to new methods of clinical practice in the future, less dependent on invasive procedures, with the potential of curing currently intractable diseases."

In welcoming the opening of REMEDI, Dr Iognáid Ó Muircheartaigh, President of NUI Galway said that continued funding of world-class research programmes was vital for Irish universities to remain internationally competitive and also central to sustaining Ireland's economic progress. He said that NUI Galway was committed to furthering its reputation as a research centre of excellence and that REMEDI, through its partnership involving scientists, clinicians and engineers working together in academic centres and industry, exemplified this commitment.

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