STEPS: growing commercially viable human tissue from stem cells

September 21, 2005

Brussels, 20 Sep 2005

A major EU-funded clinical engineering project has recently got underway that should see human tissue being grown from stem cells available for transplant in the next four years.

A consortium of European partners will develop the technology to target heart failure, diabetes, chronic ulcers and neurodegenerative diseases in particular. The researchers will primarily use adult stems cells for their work, which avoids many of ethical problems associated with embryonic stem cells.

The STEPS (Systems Approach to Tissue Engineering Processes and Products) Integrated Project has been awarded 25 million euro to accelerate the development of tissue engineering. The project, led by the University of Liverpool and the Italian pharmaceutical company Fidia, brings together the expertise of 23 partners from 12 European countries, including six industrial organisations, four of whom are small or medium sized companies (SMEs) and 17 academic centres across Europe.

Tissue engineering (TE) is a rapidly emerging collection of technologies aimed at the regeneration of tissues and organs for the treatment of disease and injury. Whilst some success has already been achieved - enough to demonstrate the potential for TE to make a significant impact on healthcare - there has been a marked lack of connectivity between the different components, suggesting that TE will not deliver its promise under current conditions.

Project coordinator Professor David Williams, Director of the UK Centre For Tissue Engineering at the University of Liverpool, declared recently: 'For tissue engineering to be successful clinically, it has to be able to generate exactly the right type of tissue, specific to a patient, in a cost-effective manner. This is not really being achieved anywhere in the world yet, but this major new project will bring together a team, with critical mass, and a range of expertise from stem cell biology to bio-manufacturing processes, including ethics and business models.'

STEPS plans to make tissue engineering using stem cells both clinically and commercially viable within the next four years. The partners will work on a wide range of problems in parallel, tackling the various obstacles facing commercial tissue engineering simultaneously. According to the project participants, STEPS will address the current lack of connectivity by introducing a systems approach to TE and associated technologies.

Information sent by the project coordinators to CORDIS News reveals: 'It is our clear objective to provide a totally new infrastructure, based upon the hypothesis that the only way to successfully implement TE is to systematically link together all aspects of this multi-disciplinary process by applying the logistics of systems engineering.'

The technological components will include cell sourcing and manipulation, novel biomaterial development, bioreactor design and the integration of TE constructs into the living host. Moreover, the programme incorporates an analysis of the socio-economic issues related to ethics and health economics. This will include an assessment of the public acceptability of these emerging technologies and the ability of private and public health insurance systems to pay for it.

The consortium has therefore designed an objective-driven approach, set to deliver radical innovations in the long term as well as new processes, methodologies and products in the short and medium term. The consortium's rationale is that 'this approach will transform the TE industrial infrastructure. The world market for TE products is estimated at 100 billion euro, but a poorly integrated infrastructure will be incapable of delivering to this market'. And in order to tackle the development of such a highly innovative systems approach to TE, the contribution of a truly multi-disciplinary consortium, backed by a critical mass of personnel and financial resources, is required. The project participants acknowledge that 'these multidisciplinary skills are indeed found only within a European cooperation'.

STEPS, an Integrated Project funded under the nanotechnologies and nanoscience, knowledge -based multifunctional materials, and new production processes and devices priority, is one of the largest research contracts under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), and all the partners involved are internationally recognised centres of excellence in their respective fields.

For further information, please visit the following website:
http:///europa.eu.int/comm/ research/fp6/p rojects.cfm?p=3&pmenu=off

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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