The British and Israeli governments will jointly fund five major research projects in regenerative medicine – the process of replacing or regenerating human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function in diseased ones.

The technique encourages the body’s own repair systems to heal tissues or organs that previously could not be fixed. Regenerative medicine also focuses on creating new tissues and organs in the lab and implanting them in the body.

British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould announced the program on Monday. It is part of the BIRAX Regenerative Medicine Initiative, a five-year multi-million pound program that he called “one of the most ambitious and innovative bilateral medical science collaborations between two countries anywhere in the world.”

The prime ministers of Israel and the UK launched BIRAX in 2008 to develop their potential of scientific collaboration.

Prominent scientists from Britain’s top universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh, will work together with Israeli counterparts from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot on stem cell research. The projects include developing stem cell treatments for multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, looking for a regenerative therapy for type 1 Diabetes and finding ways to persuade the immune system not to attack stem cells.

Gould said, “Britain and Israel are both world leaders in regenerative medicine.

This project gets our scientists working in joint research projects, so that together they can find cures for some of the world’s most awful diseases. This will be a powerful symbol of what Britain and Israel can achieve together, and an important step in building the right partnership between our countries in science and tech.”

Leading Israeli stem-cell scientist Prof. Jacob Hanna, a project leader on a successful bid from Weizmann, commented: “Stem cell research brings great promises and has seen remarkable breakthroughs in the last years.

The generous funding for my project by the BIRAX initiative enables me to address several remaining critical questions in stem cell research and to strengthen scientific ties with internationally renowned British stem cell scientists. I am confident the new collaborative contacts fostered by the British Embassy and BIRAX will prove critical for advancing our research and will lead to other long-lasting collaborations for many years to come.”

Esteemed British scientist Prof. Lord Winston, who has endorsed the project, agreed the collaborative potential is great.

“These projects, playing on the academic strengths of both countries and of the highest scientific quality, will not only have a major impact in this increasingly important area of medical science, but will be likely to benefit many people suffering from common diseases affecting the brain, such as dementia as well as heart function and other illnesses.”

The UK-Israel Life Sciences Council, a body of 19 leading scientists from the UK and Israel launched by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague in November 2010 to improve science collaboration between the two countries, has overseen the project.

“Science is rightly one of the cornerstones of the relationship between Britain and Israel – our countries are scientific superpowers,” said Hague. “Both are countries that have built up our economies and our identity through being leaders in science and technology.”

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