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Page last updated at 09:10 GMT, Thursday, 27 May 2010 10:10 UK
Newcastle Centre for Life marks 10th anniversary

The Centre for Life
The Centre for Life is near the railway station in Newcastle

The International Centre for Life in Newcastle is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The centre for research into life sciences first opened its doors on 27 May 2000, after an investment of more than £90m.

Life, as it is now known, is home to one of the biggest fertility centres in the UK and is a hub for cutting-edge research in the fields of genetics and stem cell science.

Scientists based there achieved a world first when they successfully cloned a human embryo in 2005.

BBC Newcastle has been investigating some of what goes on there.

Making babies

The Newcastle Fertility Centre, which is based at Life, is one of the biggest fertility clinics in the UK, undertaking 1,000 cycles of IVF a year.

Pregnant women
The centre deals with more than 100 referrals a month

The centre deals with more than 100 referrals per month and in total around 3,000 babies have been born with its help over the last ten years.

Professor Alison Murdoch is in charge of the fertility centre. She said there had been a steady improvement in the culture of embryos but no "leaps and bounds" of progress.

She believes the biggest change in the last 10 years has been an improvement in access to treatment.

She said: "It can be provided as a medical treatment and not as it has been in the past where simply getting access to treatment, getting in through the doors, was the biggest hurdle.

"[Infertility] should be treated like any other medical problem."

Julie from Newcastle is one of the women the centre has helped. Her daughter Bethany was the very first baby born to the centre.

Julie and Bethany
Bethany was the first baby born as a result of the work of the fertility centre

Julie said she was within weeks of having a hysterectomy when it was recommended that she see Professor Murdoch, who gave her a 20% chance of success with IVF.

Julie and her husband decided to go ahead and were thrilled when the treatment worked.

"I know it's a cliché but it's been an emotional rollercoaster, it really has," Julie said.

"We tell Bethany all the time how special she is and she knows the whole journey that we went through."

Restoring eyesight

Russell Turnbull undergoing treatment
Cells from Mr Turnbull's good eye were transplanted into his damaged one

In 2009, stem cell technology developed at Life was responsible for restoring the eyesight of eight people with Limbal Stem Cell Deficiency.

One of those to benefit was Russell Turnbull from Consett, who contracted the illness when he was squirted with ammonia after intervening in a fight.

He said the treatment had transformed his life: "My eye is almost as good as it was before the accident.

"I'm working, I can go jet skiing again and I also ride horses. I have my life back thanks to the operation."

Rare diseases

Life is one of only three centres in England for the diagnosis and management of inherited muscle diseases that are supported by the British Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.

FACTS OF LIFE
The centre is also a popular tourist attraction and around 200,000 people visit it each year
More than 40,000 science workshops are held there every year for school children
Its staff come from more than 30 different countries
The centre was named North East England Visitor Attraction of the Year in 2008

Each year the centre receives 300 new patients.

Professor of neuromuscular genetics Volker Straub said there was no easy way to tell someone they have a devastating progressive muscle-wasting disease but they make sure their patients have access to lots of support, including home visits and counselling.

The team at the muscle clinic are working to research treatments and trying to find out why defects in certain genes can lead to the wasting of muscles.

Dr Miodrag Stojkovic looks through a microscope at The Life Science Centre in Newcastle
Scientists at the centre cloned the first human embryo

Professor Straub said it is an exciting time for researchers in his field.

"There are now more and more clinical trials, there are more and more pharmaceutical companies that are showing an interest," he said.

"Ten years ago there wasn't really even a sign that the industry would get involved in finding treatments.

"So I would say yes we are closer [to a cure] but there is still nothing we can prescribe."




SEE ALSO
Snapshots of life with Duchenne
24 Mar 10 |  Arts & Culture
Stem cell cure for attack victim
22 Dec 09 |  Tyne
Cloning expert quits UK for Spain
15 Sep 05 |  Tyne
Legal challenge to human cloning
17 Nov 04 |  Health


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