BioWorld International Correspondent

Ireland's first major effort in stem cell research is getting off the ground at the National University of Ireland in Galway. The National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science at the college has secured €15 million from Science Foundation Ireland and a further €4 million from industry partners to establish a Regenerative Medicine Institute, which plans to develop approaches to treating vascular disease and arthritis based on genetically modifying adult stem cells.

"We plan to combine the two technologies to deliver genes to stem cells in order to augment their properties," Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) Director Tim O'Brien told BioWorld International. The center will study genes associated with stem cell properties, such as proliferation, differentiation and directional migration, with a view to boosting the therapeutic potential of stem cells via genetic manipulation.

Industry partners Medtronic Inc., of Minneapolis, whose vascular division already has a manufacturing and research and development presence in Galway, and arthritis specialist ChondroGene Ltd., of Toronto, will help to devise and direct the REMEDI research program, O'Brien said.

O'Brien returned to Ireland in 2001 to become professor of medicine at the National University of Ireland (NUI), having previously worked at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The other senior scientist at REMEDI also is a returning expatriate. Frank Barry, most recently director of arthritis research at Osiris Therapeutics Inc., of Baltimore, is an expert in the biology of mesenchymal stem cells and the treatment of arthritis.

REMEDI is the third life sciences project to receive funding under SFI's Centers for Science, Engineering and Technology program, which is intended to create large-scale centers of excellence in key technologies. Last year, the Dublin-based Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and University College Cork received funding to establish centers in proteomics and probiotics, respectively. (See BioWorld International, May 7, 2003.)

In its latest set of funding awards, SFI, which was set up to develop Ireland's research base in biotechnology and information technology, allocated about €21 million to other life sciences projects. That includes about €7.7 million for the Irish Center for Applied Neurotherapeutics, which will be based at University College in Dublin and Trinity College in Dublin. The center aims to identify mechanisms of brain action in order to develop new approaches for the treatment of mental illness. Dublin City University (DCU) received €4 million to develop methods for improving biotechnology-production systems.

The latest funding round also has attracted a number of researchers working overseas. Oliver Dolly is moving from Imperial College, London, to DCU to work on the development of drugs for CNS indications, while Dan Geraghty is moving from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle to NUI Maynooth to continue his research on the maternal immune response during pregnancy.

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