Medical Research Council (UK)

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The Medical Research Council (MRC) is a government-funded national organisation that promotes and supports research and postgraduate training in all areas of biomedical science. Its aims are to maintain and improve human health, and to contribute to national wealth and quality of life. For 90 years, MRC researchers have been the driving force behind a stream of remarkable advances that have transformed medicine and are benefiting people all over the world. Today, research at MRC centres, universities and hospitals throughout the UK extends from the laboratory to the bedside and beyond, and is building on past achievements to tackle the major health challenges of the 21st century.

MRC research on stem cells

The MRC is funding research aimed at making stem cell therapy a reality. Our scientists are investigating all aspects of stem cell biology in both embryonic and adult stem cells. Work on the basics of stem cells’ identity, propagation, and how they give rise to specialised cell types, will help scientists learn how to control stem cell self-renewal and differentiation in order to achieve safe, efficient, large-scale production of defined cell types. They must also develop ways of delivering stem cells and monitoring their migration within tissues and find out how to combat immune rejection. This research is still in its infancy and faces enormous challenges. The first clinical applications are not expected for five to ten years.

The MRC’s involvement in stem cell research dates back to the 1970s and 1980s, when it funded pioneering work by Professor Martin Evans at the University of Cambridge. Professor Evans was among the first to develop ways to culture ES cells derived from the mouse blastocyst, the ball of cells formed after fertilisation. Since then, the UK, by developing the necessary legislative framework, has created an ideal environment to nurture research into human stem cell therapy and to become an international leader in this rapidly advancing field of science. The MRC is working to make the most of this opportunity. It has launched a national stem cell initiative, and is supporting some of the world’s top stem cell researchers.

The MRC has established a new funding committee to specifically support the application of stem cell technology and the future delivery of clinical treatments using stem cells. The Translational Stem Cell Research Committee was launched in summer 2008 and meets three times a year to fund researcher-led applications submitted in response mode as well as through targeted calls for proposals.

Recent Achievements

Funding collaborations

Other initiatives

Stem Cells for Safer Medicine (SC4SM)

This not-for-profit company was established as a public-private partnership in 2008 to fund research leading to the development of stem cell technologies as a way of assessing toxicological responses to candidate drugs. Partners are BBSRC, MRC, Department of Health, Scottish Office and Technology Strategy Board from the public sector, and Astra Zeneca, GSK and Roche from the private sector. £1.2m has been awarded to a coordinated programme of pilot projects under phase I of this initiative, to establish scalable differentiation protocols for the production of functional human hepatocytes and cardiomyocytes, with a view to a much larger phase II of up to 5 years. See


New Legislation - Human Embryology and Fertilisation Act 2008

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 received Royal Assent on 13 November 2008. The Bill was in Parliament for a year, during which it was subject to much debate and scrutiny from which it benefitted greatly. The Government undertook a review of the law primarily in response to technological developments, such as new ways of creating embryos that have arisen since 1990, and changes in societal perspectives. The Act updates the curent law to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the 21st century and aims to keep the UK at the forefront of associated developments in treatment and research.

The 2008 Act mainly amends the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, and its research modifications in 2001, and maintains the previous UK position on human stem cell research. Key new provisions under the 2008 Act are to:

The text of the 2008 HFE Bill and supporting information is avaialble at: 

During the consultation stages for the HFE Bill, the UK Academy of Medical Sciences produced a report on the issues relating to research on embryos combining human and non-human material (inter-species embryos), which is available at

Recent highlights from MRC funded research

Towards a therapy for Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Professor Pete Coffey, from University College London, has entered into collaboration with the biopharmaceutical group Pfizer to advance development of stem cell-based therapies for age-related macular degeneration (AMD). An MRC grant to Professor Coffey supported the underpinning research that led directly to his current work, while MRC also funded the derivation of the human embryonic stem cell lines at the University of Sheffield that have provided the basis for this work.

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Virus free induction of pluripotency and subsequent excision of reprogramming factors : Kaji K et al, Nature. 2009, 458(7239):771-5.

Klf4 reverts developmentally programmed restriction of ground state pluripotency. Guo G et al, Development 2009, 136(7):1063-9.

The ground state of embryonic stem cell self-renewal. Ying et al, Nature. 2008, 453(7194):519-23

Initiating and cancer-propagating cells in TEL-AML1-associated childhood leukemia. Hong D et al, Science 2008, 319(5861):336-9.




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