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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Millions for stem cell research
Dr Raisman's research
Dr Raisman's research
The government is to pump 16.5m into stem cell research to treat disease.

A total of 57 grants have been awarded to universities across the UK looking at new treatments for conditions such as Parkinson's, diabetes and cancer.

Critics oppose taking stem cells from embryos, but they can also be harvested from adult tissue.

One project, by the National Institute of Medical Research in London, involves taking stem cells from the lining of the nose to repair spinal cord damage.

If we can harness the potential of these incredible cells, we might be standing at the threshold of one of the greatest contributions science has made to human health.
Professor Colin Blakemore
The researchers, led by Dr Geoffrey Raisman, have already found that stem cells lining the nose have the ability to regenerate throughout life.

They believe it is possible to harness this ability to graft them into damaged spinal areas to stimulate regeneration of the tissue.

Trials in rats have produced promising results, and the scientists hope to start tests on humans in a few years' time.

As well as helping patients who are paralysed, the scientists believe the technique could help stroke patients, or others with brain damage.

Dr Raisman said: "There is one part of the nervous system where nerve fibres are continually formed throughout adult life - and that is the nerve fibres concerned with the sense of smell.

"Our idea was: can we transfer this ability to grow?

"There is enormous potential for treating injuries which at the moment cannot be cured."

However, Dr Raisman said the shortage of available nasal stem cells meant one of the major problems facing his team was how to spread the cells as thinly as possible to cover the largest possible area.

Pancreas tissue

Stem cells have the ability to become many different types of tissue in the body.

Another project, led by Professor Ann Logan, from the University of Birmingham, will examine the ability of stem cells from one kind of adult tissue to generate different cell types of other tissues.

In particular, she will focus on the potential of using cells from the pancreas to regenerate damaged brain tissue.

A stem cell bank holding supplies for use by researchers was officially opened in the UK last week.

Professor Colin Blakemore, speaking on behalf of Research Councils UK, said: "It would be wrong to raise expectations of immediate benefits for human patients, but if we can harness the potential of these incredible cells, we might be standing at the threshold of one of the greatest contributions science has made to human health.

"The funds announced today will enable the UK's finest scientists to further explore the potential of stem cells to treat diseases from cancer to Parkinson's and from diabetes to heart disease."

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