The projects bring together scientists from 11 universities in all, including six in the UK - Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester, Nottingham and Oxford – and are specifically designed to develop stem cell therapies for treating some of the great medical scourges of our time: diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease and multiple sclerosis.
The projects represent the second stage of the British Council’s £10 million Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange programme (Birax), which awarded research grants to seven initial projects in 2013.
After the council secured £3.2 million from sources including leading UK medical foundations, Prime Minister David Cameron launched the call for new research proposals during his visit to Israel in March 2014.
Three separate teams will be exploring different approaches to cutting deaths and complications caused by heart disease by using heart cells to restore damaged heart muscle, determining the best cells to rebuild hearts damaged by coronaries and even developing cells controlled by light to correct abnormal heartbeats.
Two more will be looking at new treatments for diabetes by identifying genetic factors and regenerating immune cells.
The final three projects will consider repairing nerve cell damage in multiple sclerosis, pioneering a breath test to diagnose Parkinson’s disease and regenerating livers with patients’ own stem cells.
“Every now and then a technology breakthrough in science holds promise for dramatic progress in disease therapy and cures,” says Raymond Dwek, director of the Glycobiology Institute at Oxford University, who also chairs the UK-Israel Science Council.
“The Birax initiative, which is supported by leading scientists in the UK, has focused on stem cell therapies with this goal and acknowledges that the UK science base is complemented by the outstanding work in this area in Israel. This combination offers real hope of substantial progress in many disease areas.”