We undertake fundamental and applied research on the biology of pluripotent stem cells. Our aim is to develop cell therapies for regenerative medicine and to use stem cells as tools for drug discovery.
As part of the department of Biomedical Science (Faculty of Science) at the University of Sheffield, the Centre for Stem Cell Biology (CSCB) brings together researchers focused on developing the basic biology and technology that will underpin the use of human Pluripotent Stem Cells for applications in medicine, whether for a direct use in regenerative medicine, or for disease modelling, drug discovery and toxicology.
Directed by Professors Peter Andrews, our research exploits many aspects of molecular cell biology and developmental biology and so interfaces with other research in these areas in the Department. We also collaborate with other groups within the University, notably in the Centre for Signal Processing and Complex Systems in the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, nationally, with groups linked to the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform and internationally, for example to the EU Consortium, Plurimes, the EU Consortium Otostem and the International Stem Cell Initiative.
Embryonic stem (ES) cells correspond to cells that are found in the very early embryo and are capable of initiating differentiation leading to all cell types found in the adult body. They are said to be ‘Pluripotent’. Human ES cells, which can be maintained indefinitely in culture, were first isolated in 1998, following decades of work with corresponding mouse cells and with similar cells found in teratocarcinomas, a rare tumour that caricatures the processes of early embryonic development.
An alternative route to such cells was discovered in 2006, when it was found that fully differentiated adult cells could be converted back to cells closely resembling ES cells. Such cells were called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. Collectively, ES and iPS cells are now known as PSC. It is the ability of these cells to differentiate into a very wide range of functional cell types that leads to the current excitement about their possible medical applications. To address this, researchers in the CSCB have derived over 20 new human ES cell lines, many in our GMP laboratory to standards that will facilitate their use in regenerative medicine.
Other work is focused upon the mechanisms by which PSC choose alternative fates, either dividing to generate more undifferentiated cells (‘Self-Renewal’), or choosing between pathways that lead to many distinct differentiated cell types. Among such differentiated cells are specialised cells that function in the ear, and recent work in the CSCB has shown that auditory neurons derived from human PSC can be transplanted to allow recovery of hearing in an animal model. A further aspect of PSC is their acquisition of mutations that influence their behavior.
While we are seeking to understand mutational the mechanisms in these cells, to minimise the appearance of variants, we are also exploiting those variants that do arise as to explore aspects of stem cell biology pertinent to cancer.