Pictured l-r: Zhidong Zhao, Deputy Director-General, Hebei provincial department of human resources and social security presents Professor Timothy O’Brien, NUI Galway with a 100 Foreign Experts of Hebei Province award from the Provincial Government of Hebei Province, which will allow Professor O’Brien to oversee research and student exchange programmes.
Jan 04 2019 Posted: 14:29 GMT

NUI Galway and Hebei Medical University have established a joint stem cell research centre in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China. The goal is to collaborate and to develop translational research programmes using stem cells to treat serious conditions of unmet medical need which require a global approach to finding solutions. The centre was launched in November 2017 and held its opening international conference and scientific advisory board meeting in Shijiazhuang at the end of 2018.

The Centre is co-directed by Professor Huixan Cui, President of Hebei Medical University and Professor Timothy O’Brien, Dean of the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences and REMEDI and CÚRAM investigator at NUI Galway and Consultant Endocrinologist at Saolta University Healthcare Group.   

The Research

The joint stem cell research centre will have three main clinical themes: cardio-renal-metabolic disease including diabetes mellitus; musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis; and neurological disorders. Clinicians and scientists in both institutions have partnered with a goal of developing clinical trials to be undertaken in both jurisdictions with common methodology. There will be a particular focus on stem cell manufacture and clinical trial performance under strict regulatory compliance.    

Professor Timothy O’Brien from NUI Galway commented that it is important to realise that many areas of stem cell use are in effect experimental medicines and not proven therapies. “We need to undertake rigorously conducted clinical trials with carefully manufactured stem cells to ensure these therapies are safe and effective. We have invested significant resources in Galway to this end with the construction of a Good Manufacturing Practice facility for stem cell manufacture (Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland) and a HRB Clinical Research Facility, which has special expertise in conducting early stage clinical trials in stem cell therapy. We also greatly appreciate the help of the Galway Blood and Tissue Establishment at Galway University Hospital under whose license all tissue is procured for stem cell isolation.”

Cell Manufacturing Facilities

Investigators at The Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland, a GMP stem cell manufacturing facility located at NUI Galway and the Galway HRB Clinical Research Facility will collaborate with clinicians and scientists in Hebei Province. The Second Affiliated Hospital of Hebei Medical University is licensed for stem cell clinical research in China. 

Professor Huixan Cui, President of Hebei Medical University, stated: “Hebei Province has a population of almost 80 million people and many conditions which are common in Ireland are also causing much suffering to our population. We are excited about this joint venture which we believe will be mutually beneficial and ultimately will serve the needs of patients. We have just opened a new state of the art research facility which will be the home to the joint stem cell research centre and we are excited that we will be joined in this venture by colleagues from NUI Galway.”

Centre’s Opening International Conference and Student Exchange

Five NUI Galway faculty presented at the recent international conference along with partner principal investigators from Hebei Medical University. The scientific advisory board whose members come from the USA, EU and China reviewed the scientific plans and endorsed the programme. 

Professor Matthew Griffin, a clinician scientist at REMEDI and CURAM who spoke at the conference and will be a member of NUI Galway-Hebei Medical University joint stem cell research centre commented: “This research partnership has great potential to accelerate the delivery of new treatments based on stem cell science to people in both countries who are suffering from a range of debilitating diseases.”

Principal investigators at NUI Galway currently have seven active clinical trial programmes with extensive funding from the European Union, Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board, and Galway investigators will now partner with Chinese colleagues to develop similar trials in China.

In addition to laboratory-based stem cell research and clinical trials the institutions have committed to staff and student exchange. Professor O’Brien has received a 100 Foreign Experts of Hebei Province award from the Provincial Government of Hebei Province, which will allow him to oversee the research and student exchange programmes. Fifteen medical students from NUI Galway spent one month in Hebei Medical University in June and six medical students from Hebei studied in Galway. 

Professor O’Brien, added: “These international exchanges are a vital part of our undergraduate medical curriculum and part of our effort to ensure our medical graduates have a concept of global citizenship.” 

In addition to cultural, social and education interchange, the students participated in the inaugural Friendship Cup, a basketball tournament played between teams from NUI Galway and Hebei Medical University in which the Galway students were winners in a keenly contested match. 

The programme is facilitated by Professor Sanbing Shen, Professor of Fundamental Stem Cell Biology at NUI Galway, who has trained scientists from Hebei in his NUI Galway laboratory who are now faculty members in higher education institutions in Hebei. Professors O’Brien and Shen have been approved by Chinese authorities to supervise PhD students in China and recruitment for this purpose is currently underway in the joint stem cell research centre.

The centre looks forward to fostering translational collaborations between hospitals, universities and industry in China and Ireland to bring new regenerative stem cell therapies to patients in Ireland, China and globally.

-Ends-

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