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EU invests in stem cells for the real world

Out of the lab, into the surgery

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The EU has committed $32m of funding to a research consortium that aims to commercialise stem cell tissue engineering technologies over the next four years, according to reports.

The project, named Systems Approach to Tissue Engineering Products and Processes (Steps), will build on a solid foundation of research to learn how to build specific tissues - such as skin, bone or cartilage - in quantities that would make them useful to patients.

It will be a multi-disciplinary effort, drawing on experts in gene therapy, materials science, molecular biology and engineering.

Dr. David Williams, project leader and director of the UK Centre for Tissue Engineering, told Wired.com: "Despite plenty of progress, tissue engineering has not achieved tremendous clinical success or commercial success."

He explained that although small samples of various tissues can be grown in the lab, the process needs to be scaled up, and sped up, if it is to be good enough for skin grafts, for example, in the real world.

Making the leap from the lab to the surgery will not be a simple task, but Williams is confident that the team will be testing clinical treatments within four years.

The team will also be investigating exactly how it is that stem cells can turn into other cells. Williams says that although in many cases scientists have worked out how it happens, he wants to build a working model of the process. ®

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