BioWorld International Correspondent

Stem cell research in Sweden received an SEK75 million boost through a three-way partnership between the New York-based Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish Association of Diabetes Research.

The organizations are backing a five-year program of basic research on stem cells, which will support projects focused on derivation and characterization of new human embryonic stem cell lines; characterization of existing pluripotent human stem cell lines; determination of culture conditions for maintenance of undifferentiated stem cell populations and for stimulating cellular proliferation and development; and regulation of cellular differentiation and development. In addition, up to SEK1 million (US$97,000) will be available for research into the legal and ethical aspects of human embryonic stem cell research.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), which played an active role in calling for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research in the U.S., is contributing SEK50 million of the total funding. Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, general secretary of the Scientific Council for Medicine at the Swedish Research Council, said the two organizations have an existing collaboration in the diabetes field. Planning for the new initiative commenced in December, shortly after the Swedish body issued ethical guidelines for scientists performing research using human embryonic stem cells. (See BioWorld International, Dec. 12, 2001.)

Wallberg-Henriksson said the new line of funding will enable Swedish scientists to accelerate the pace of their research. A newly published survey of the country’s effort in this area identified at least 100 Ph.D.-level researchers who are working with stem cells on either a part-time or full-time basis.

“For this year 2002, the Swedish Research Council is allocating approximately SEK15 million to the scientists in this survey,” Wallberg-Henriksson said. This is in addition to the JDRF partnership. They also are tapping into European Union funding programs, and receive support from their own institutions and from other sources. But most of this cash is consumed by salaries and equipment.

Wallberg-Henriksson said there are about 35 research groups, each with about six to 10 researchers, engaged in stem cell research in Sweden. The country looks to be in the process of liberalizing the legal framework for stem cell research. “We are expecting some movement, probably within this year,” Wallberg-Henriksson said. This follows the research council’s call for a relaxation of the current ban on somatic cell nuclear transfer. “We are expecting the Swedish government to take the same step as has been done in Great Britain,” she said.