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Cardiff stem cell expertise showcases at national conference

10 April 2008

embryonic stem cell

Cardiff University research will be showcased at an annual scientific conference celebrating the latest and best in UK stem cell science.

Professor Alan Clarke, Cardiff School of Biosciences is presenting his research findings towards potential treatment of intestinal cancer at the UK National Stem Cell Network Annual Science Meeting in Edinburgh.

Professor Clarke, together with his colleague Owen Sansom from the University of Glasgow, discovered how cancer pathways can also control the adult stem cell population by investigating a mechanism which normally drives adult stem cells to repair the intestine. His work found that if the relevant gene is lost or damaged within the intestinal crypt cells, then this normal function of controlling the adult stem cell population breaks down and ultimately leads to a tumour.

Professor Clarke said: "If we are to use adult stem cells for therapy then we must understand how they behave normally and what sometimes triggers them to go wrong and potentially cause cancer. Otherwise we may never be able to fully exploit their potential, or do so safely. That is why we have chosen to research intestinal repair as an example of how adult stem cells work and what happens when the pathways that control them go wrong.

"It has been known for some time that loss of or damage to the Apc gene within the intestinal crypt cells can lead to cancer, but what hasn’t been clear is what it actually does. Our work shows that this gene has a role in switching off ‘Wnt signalling’, controlling the adult stem cell population and preventing the formation of tumours." APC deficient intestines

Also from Cardiff School of Biosciences, Professor Charlie Archer will discuss his research which could have benefits for arthritis sufferers- especially younger active patients with cartilage lesions that can progress to whole scale osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis affects more than two million people in the UK and occurs when changes in the make up of the body’s cartilage causes joints to fail to work properly. A current treatment for damaged cartilage due to trauma in younger patients is to harvest cartilage cells from neighbouring healthy cartilage and transplant them into the damaged area. Unfortunately, only a limited number of cells can be generated.

However, the team from Cardiff School of Biosciences successfully identified stem cells within articular cartilage of adults over 75 years of age, which although it cannot become any cell in the body like full stem cells, has the ability to be turned into chondrocytes (the cells that make up the body’s cartilage) in high enough numbers to make treatment a realistic possibility.

Professor Archer said: "We have identified a cell which when grown in the lab can produce enough of a person’s own cartilage that it could be effectively transplanted. There are limitations in trying to transplant a patient’s existing cartilage cells but by culturing it from a resident stem cell we believe we can overcome this limitation."

Professor Sir Martin Evans, Director of the Cardiff School of Biosciences who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for a series of ground-breaking discoveries concerning embryonic stem cells and DNA recombination in mammals, will also be speaking at the Conference in his capacity as a Network Steering Committee member.