Stem-cell rival lures star from Edinburgh

July 8, 2005

Edinburgh University has lost one of the biggest names in stem-cell research to rival Cambridge University - but has vowed to spend whatever it takes to stay at the top of the field.

Austin Smith, one of the forerunners of stem-cell research in the UK, has resigned from his position as director of Edinburgh's Institute of Stem-cell Research to launch a similar centre at Cambridge.

In a competitive scientific area with only a small number of big-name scientists, it represents a heavy blow for Edinburgh.

But the university told The Times Higher that it would be increasing investment in a bid to secure a top stem-cell researcher to take Professor Smith's place.

Cambridge has not yet gone public about the appointment, but the university confirmed this week that it was delighted to have acquired such a key player.

Roger Pedersen, one of America's leading stem-cell researchers who was poached by Cambridge in 2001 to become professor of regenerative medicine, said that Cambridge had brought "formidable resources to bear" in stem-cell research over the past two years.

He said: "We envisage Cambridge as one of the UK flagships for our field.

Welcome aboard, Professor Smith!"

Sources close to Edinburgh said this week that Ronald McKay - a high-profile stem-cell scientist at the National Institutes for Health in the US - was the favourite to take over.

Grahame Bulfield, head of Edinburgh's College of Science and Engineering, declined to name any recruitment targets, but he said that the university had drawn up a list of the ten biggest names in stem-cell research internationally and intended to approach them all.

Professor Bulfield said: "Some people are immovable, others aren't. We will pick the best person we can get in the world. This is obviously going to take a lot of money. We want someone of considerable weight."

He added: "There is nothing we can do about Austin going. He leaves a big hole, and I'd much rather he weren't going, but that's the way it is."

Edinburgh has already poached Ian Wilmut, the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep, from the Roslin Institute. It aims to set up a new regenerative medicine centre focusing on ways in which stem-cell research can be used to treat patients.

Once these plans are in place, Edinburgh hopes that the incentives can be used alongside a generous salary package to tempt a big name to equal Professor Smith.

Professor Bulfield said that as well as fame and a world-class academic record, the institution would be searching for someone who would excel as a leader.


Roger Pedersen: left the US for Cambridge

Alison Murdoch: Newcastle star

Stephen Minger: lured from the US to King's

Robin Lovell-Badge: big player at NIMR



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