UCL News


Peking-UCL collaboration in stem cell research

15 November 2006

Professor John Martin (UCL Medicine) has returned from Beijing, China, where he signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between UCL and Peking University, demonstrating the universities' commitment to joint research.

He will now collaborate with Peking University to progress his research into stem cell therapies for heart attack patients.

Professor Martin's involvement with Beijing academia started 18 months ago, when the European Commission asked him to attend a high-level delegation to the city to meet with the Chinese government there.

As the European representative for biotechnology and biomedicine, Professor Martin had the opportunity to pose searching questions about the ethics and the direction of scientific research in China. At the event, he met Professor Chunyan Zhou of Peking University, who works in the same area of stem cell research.

The trip also made him aware of the great benefits of collaboration with China. The 2007 round of European Commission framework funding for science (FP7) will for the first time award the same funding status to Chinese research projects as it does to the projects of EU member states. FP7 funding bids for collaborative research with China will thus carry particular clout in the bid process.

Professor Martin explained: "The circumstances were ideal to start working together with Peking University. There are many uncertainties in collaborating with China in science research, but in Professor Zhou, I had found a scientist who I could rely on to work with us on stem cell research."

As Chair of the Taskforce On Stem Cells in the Heart for the European Society of Cardiology and of the British Collaboration on Stem Cells and the Heart, Professor Martin believes passionately that in order to fully exploit the potential of stem cell therapies for the treatment of heart attack patients, researchers need to work together rather than compete with each other. An international collaboration is thus doubly welcome.

The outcome of Professor Martin's groundbreaking clinical research in the area of stem cell injections into the heart has this week been broadly reported in the media, and with the new FP7 bid, he hopes to take his research into an area that will prove more effective for patients.

"By taking stem cells from the bone marrow and injecting them into the heart of heart attack patients, we should see some improvement in healing, but the next stage is to make this treatment better by introducing genes into the stem cells using a virus. This process, called transfection, should make the stem cells much more effective at helping the heart to heal."

The MoU between the two universities should see an exchange of researchers between London and Beijing. They will undergo the basic science research into this area, and then take it forward into clinical trials.

"I would predict that within five years, we'll see autologous cells used to treat heart attack patients, and within a decade, a new generation of gene-injected 'super stem cells' could well be in use."

To find out more about Professor Martin, FP7 and UCL's global perspective, use the links at the bottom of the article.