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New international research center to drive future stem cell-derived medicines

A grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation of up to 300 million euro now enables the establishment of a major international research center focused on stem cell medicine. The center will be a collaboration between the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Australia, and Leiden University Medical Center, The Netherlands. The partnership between these three world-leading research institutions will pave the way for future stem cell-based treatments.

Stem cell medicine is delivering hope for new treatments across many currently untreatable diseases. Stem cells are found throughout the human body and are critical for a healthy life. Recent scientific advances now allow us to identify, isolate and engineer stem cells to create human tissue models, repair injured tissues and in the future grow new organs. A deep understanding of stem cell biology in organ development, tissue repair and disease mechanisms is essential to harness the therapeutic potential in stem cell medicine.

This is exactly what the new international stem cell research center aims to achieve. The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine reNEW, will be established based on a new consortium of three institutions. The founding of the Center is possible through an unprecedented grant of up to 300 million euro from the Novo Nordisk Foundation over a 10-year period.

Professor Melissa Little from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Australia, has been appointed the CEO of the reNEW partnership and will take up the position as Executive Director and Professor of the Center with the governing hub based at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen.

”I am very excited about the amazing opportunity that reNEW represents,“ says Professor Little. ”Building on the stem cell research excellence that exists within all partner institutions, the Center will reach a critical mass that is required for translating fundamental discoveries into stem cell medicine. The international collaboration that forms the basis for the new Center will provide access to extensive technical and clinical translation expertise across all sites. Across the breadth of stem cell medicine this will lead to new drugs based on human stem cell models, cell and tissue therapies and novel cell and gene therapies.”

“Stem cell medicine truly promises to be a game changer when it comes to addressing some of the major health challenges facing the world today,” says Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, CEO of the Novo Nordisk Foundation. “With the establishment of this new Center, the aim is not just to further stem cell-based research through international collaborations, but also to strengthen the pathway from scientific discovery to targeted outcome, whether in the form of new medical technology or new forms of treatment for the benefit of patients.”

Vast potential for many diseases
In the reNEW model, it is expected that discoveries go beyond high-quality fundamental stem cell research and create value and patient-centered outcomes. This vision is anchored on ‘state of the art’ stem cell science, which will feed into three clinically relevant research themes:

  • The reBUILD theme will focus on the use of stem cells to regenerate or recreate tissue after it has been damaged or destroyed. Programmes include stem cell-based therapies for diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, congenital heart disease, diabetes, ulcerative colitis and chronic renal disease, with projects over time moving into pre-clinical and clinical trials.
  • The reSOLVE theme will screen for potential drug candidates using stem cell-based models of human tissue. This will include lab grown models of mini organs, such as 3D gut organoids to screen for drugs to treat conditions such as chronic ulceration and inherited kidney and heart disease.
  • The reWRITE theme will use a combination of gene editing and stem cell technologies to develop new treatment strategies for genetically inherited diseases. These include immune deficiency disorders and progressive congenital muscle disorders.

In order to align the research with community expectations and regulations, the theme PREPARE will study the societal, ethical, regulatory and legal barriers in stem cell medicine, paving the way for the delivery of future treatments.

Scientists at the three institutions will work in collaborative groups across all themes to provide new therapeutic options for patients with incurable diseases. Exchange programmes and joint technology platforms in the reNEW model will fuel these collaborations and also the training of new generations of scientists in translational stem medicine.

Translational focus
With its existing, Novo Nordisk Foundation-funded, stem cell center DanStem, the University of Copenhagen has grown to become a major center for stem cell and developmental biology in Europe. In the new collaboration, reNEW will build on this position and aim to translate scientific discoveries to stem cell-derived medicine.

Prorector for Research at the University of Copenhagen David Dreyer Lassen is looking forward to taking the first steps on a long journey toward better stem cell-based medical interventions.

“I am very pleased that the University of Copenhagen will host the governing hub and be a strong partner in this exciting international consortium, with a strong emphasis on translating excellent basic research into future stem cell-based treatments,” says David Dreyer Lassen.

Bringing together research excellence
In 1968, the first paediatric bone marrow transplant in Europe was performed in Leiden. Ever since, Leiden University Medical Center has been a European leader within medical innovation with an outstanding track-record of cellular therapies to patients.

“I am very excited by the reNew initiative as it creates the critical mass of excellent science, educational underpinning, proven translational potential and cutting-edge infrastructure to be transformational in this emerging medical field,” says Professor Pancras Hogendoorn, Dean and member of the Executive Board of the Leiden University Medical Center.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute is a world-leader in children’s health research with a specific strategic initiative within stem cell medicine. To support this, they have state-of-the-art facilities such as a Stem Cell Derivation and Gene Editing Facility as well as a Disease Modelling and Drug Screening Facility with capacity for 3D organoids.

“We are excited to commence the international collaboration that will advance stem cell-derived medicine and ultimately accelerate delivery of effective and targeted treatments for children and adults with incurable disease,” says Professor and Institute Director at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Kathryn North.

The research activities within the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine will begin in the start of January 2022.

Further information

Nils Eskestad, Senior Communications Manager, +45 3023 2904, [email protected]