UK experts join BGU regenerative medicine parlay

Joint research could benefit hundreds of millions around the globe.

Scientist 311 (photo credit: Israel21C)
Scientist 311
(photo credit: Israel21C)
An unusually large delegation of 60 British experts in the field of regenerative medicine have arrived to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday with around 150 Israeli counterparts to launch a groundbreaking program for promoting collaboration between the two countries.
Many millions of people suffering from major physical trauma; cardiovascular, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases; severe burns; birth defects; and numerous other disorders and conditions will eventually benefit from this first-ever UK-Israel Regenerative Medicine Conference at Ben- Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.
Regenerative medicine is an interdisciplinary field of research focused on the development of therapies to restore impaired function of cells, tissues or organs in the human body. It uses a combination of biomedical approaches including, but not limited to, medical devices, stem cells, tissue engineering, genetic engineering, biomaterials, gene and cellular therapies.
Scientists believe it holds the promise of regenerating damaged tissues and organs in the body by replacing damaged tissue and/or by stimulating the body’s own repair mechanisms to heal previously irreparable tissues or organs.
It was estimated that the potential patient populations for stem cell-based therapies in the US alone include more than 100 million people and that regenerative medicine therapies will result in direct health care cost savings in the range of $250 billion per year.
Regenerative medicine could also be applied towards improving health in developing countries, as 80 percent of global chronic disease deaths, more than 95% of infectious disease deaths, and almost 90% of deaths due to injury and trauma occur in low- and middle-income countries.
Over 500 biotechnology companies are involved in the current regenerative medicine market. Currently marketed therapies include a bone graft and artificial skin to heal chronic wounds. A number of industry- funded clinical trials of stem cell-based treatments for conditions such as heart failure, spinal cord injury, cerebrovascular accident, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Crohn’s disease are also being carried out.
Other regenerative medicine therapies currently being developed include heart valves; a nerve tissue/electrical interface to integrate between the nervous system and electromechanical devices such as artificial limbs; and an artificial trachea.
Both Israel and the UK are recognized as world leaders in this cutting-edge area of medicine.
The conference is the inaugural event of the BIRAX – Regenerative Medicine Initiative, a five-year program that hopes to raise £10 million and support 15 high-quality joint UK-Israel research projects that will be selected by experts and approved by the UK-Israel Life Sciences Council.
BIRAX was originally launched in 2008 by the British and Israeli prime ministers and is managed by British Council Israel. It aims to enhance research and academic cooperation, creating new institutional links for the future and strengthening academic links between universities in the UK.
British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould said: “Britain and Israel are natural partners in regenerative medicine. The UK is a world leader in science – we have four of the world’s top 10 universities – and Israel is a scientific powerhouse. We can achieve much more together than we can apart.
My hope is that this conference leads to a surge of collaborations between British and Israeli scientists, with the UKIsrael Regenerative Medicine program stimulating groundbreaking research projects.”
Dr Simon Kay, director at the British Council’s Israel office, said: “We believe this project has the potential to make real scientific breakthroughs. Science is an incredibly strong tool for celebrating and sharing the immense intellectual prowess of both our countries and is one of the cornerstones of our work here in Israel.”
The UK-Israel Life Sciences Council – a group of 19 top scientists from both countries which met for the first time in Jerusalem in January 2011– decided that the BIRAX program should focus on the area of regenerative medicine. This senior group of scientists includes four Nobel prize winners, three members of the House of Lords, presidents of universities and some of the most distinguished scientists in the world.
The Pears Foundation and the United Jewish Israel Appeal, as well as the British and Israeli governments, are among the program’s supporters. The conference’s expert committee will be jointly chaired by Lord Naren Patel (University of Dundee) and Prof. Benjamin Geiger (Weizmann Institute of Science), with Prof Smadar Cohen (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) and Prof. Chris Mason (University College London).
Conference sessions will include cell therapy, stem cell biology, tissue engineering, biomedical engineering and gene therapy, giving British and Israeli researchers the opportunity to develop collaboration.