Malcolm Wicks, Minister for Science, at a launch event in London, stated: "Stem cell research is an area which offers the potential to provide cures for some of our most debilitating diseases, which affect so many families. The UKNSCN offers a great chance for experts to work together, sharing knowledge and technology across the research community. I'm sure it will help us as we strive to maintain the United Kingdom's place as a world leader in this area of science."
In addition to co-ordinating the United Kingdom's numerous national and regional stem cell research initiatives, the UKNSCN will help to bring together and improve communication between the various sub-disciplines of stem cell science. The Network aims to become the focal point for communication about stem cell research to the public and industry. It also aims to become the national voice of stem cell science to policy makers and act as the main initial point of contact for overseas researchers and promoting the uptake and use of stem cells by scientific, business and medical communities.
Lord Naren Patel of Dunkeld is the first chair of the UKNSCN Steering Committee. He commented: "The United Kingdom is one of the world's leading nations for stem cell science but we have to ensure that as we move closer to real applications to help patients that all our scientists are pulling together in a co-ordinated effort. The United Kingdom National Stem Cell Network will give focus and a unified voice to stem cell science. We need to make sure that the Government and the public know about the excellent stem cell research being done in labs all over the United Kingdom and that we maintain the support needed to keep the United Kingdom at the forefront of this exciting, ground-breaking area of science. The Network will work with the researchers, the health service and industry to help turn first class research in the labs into therapies for patients in our hospitals."
The United Kingdom's stem cell research community has a strong historical foundation going back to the first isolation of embryonic stem cells in Cambridge over a quarter of a century ago by Professor Sir Martin Evans. Since this seminal advance, the United Kingdom has continued to be world leading in stem cell research, establishing centres of excellence across the country including the Wellcome Centre for Stem Cell Research in Cambridge, the Institute for Stem Cell Research in Edinburgh and the Centre for Life in Newcastle, and by setting up the first national stem cell bank in 2002.
The United Kingdom National Stem Cell Network is designed to act as a network of the existing regional stem cell networks in the United Kingdom, to bring co-ordination and coherence to a range of national and regional activities in the field of stem cell research. UKNSCN will be holding its first Annual Science Meeting in April 2008, where current status and methods to improve co-ordination of multi-disciplinary research will be assessed.
The UKNSCN secretariat receives financial support from four of the United Kingdom Research Councils:
- Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
- Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
- Medical Research Council (MRC)