David tells us about his Golden-Jubilee grant used for research into canine ageing and regeneration.
Stem cells are the fundamental cells responsible for creating organisms and also maintaining those organisms throughout their lives. An understanding of stem cell biology has profound implications for understanding basic developmental biology right through to how disease affects tissues, and how the body responds to that disease. This will help us to develop new treatments for diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.
The major work in our lab is currently focused on cancer in companion animals, specifically dogs. A few years ago, we identified key stem cells in cancer, which we consider to be the fundamental cells that are responsible for this devastating disease. However, to understand diseased stem cells, we realised that we needed a greater understanding of normal stem cells. This concept grew into the project that the RCVS Trust is funding, and has evolved to encompass a number of potentially very important outcomes, such as:
- A greater understanding of the fundamental biology of development in the dog.
- A greater understanding of stem cells in disease, and how the canine body can regenerate.
- Developing a mechanism by which we can isolate stem cells in culture and make them into organ-specific cells (e.g. liver cells), then we can start to develop in vitro systems for drug testing.
Apart from understanding development and disease, we anticipate that the major impact of our work in the welfare of dogs will be the reduction of a need for the use of dogs in research. All of the canine cells we used were derived from dogs that had been euthanased for clinical reasons, and taken with their owners’ consent.
Our fundamental discovery is that we can induce adult cells to become stem cells, similar to the process described in mice only a few years ago. However, on top of this, we have evidence that cancer cells can also be ‘reprogrammed’. This is early days, but could have profound consequences for our understanding of normal development and devastating diseases, such as cancer.
In today’s climate, £250,000 is modest in research terms. A project like this costs us around £1,000 to £1,500 per month in consumables (e.g. reagents and cell culture). On top of that, we need to employ an experienced person to carry out cell culture experiments. Our project funding also included the training of a PhD student – a veterinary surgeon – so we have had the added advantage that this programme is also helping to train the next generation of clinical scientists.
We are excited to continue with this work as it has opened up major avenues for us. We have been awarded a major Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council grant to continue this work.
“We could not have done this without the Trust’s support. Because of its generous support, we have been able to gain invaluable data which has also allowed us to apply for even more financial support from the Research Councils to make this a major programme. This could have significant benefits for the future of research, not only in dogs, but in other species as well, including, potentially, humans.”
See the project poster, available from the related documents box.
See my lecture on the subject, available from the related links box.
See my blog entry, available from the related links box.