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Four UK-Israel stem cell projects win £1.5 million in funding

Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange program invests in developers of therapies that take aim at diabetes, heart disease, leukemia and Alzheimer’s

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative image of stem cell research (CIPhotos, iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of stem cell research (CIPhotos, iStock by Getty Images)

Four new joint medical research projects that use stem cells to tackle degenerative diseases will get funding totaling £1.5 million (some $2 million) from the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange program (BIRAX), a £10 million initiative of the British Council that invests in groundbreaking research jointly undertaken by scientists in Britain and Israel.

The projects, which will develop stem cell therapies to treat diabetes, heart disease, leukemia, anemia and Alzheimer’s, are the latest additions to projects funded by BIRAX. This is the initiative’s third call for proposals, and the projects bring together scientists from the University of Edinburgh, the Weizmann Institute for Science, the Technion – Israel Institute for Technology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Exeter University, University of Cambridge and the University of Glasgow.

David Quarrey, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Israel, said that some of the UK’s leading medical foundations will be working together with their Israeli counterparts “to deliver world-class, cutting-edge collaborative research projects that will both bring the UK and Israeli academic communities closer together, and take us a step closer to making the world’s most debilitating diseases a thing of the past.”

The funded projects are:

  • Regenerating new blood vessels to restore healthy tissue — University of Edinburgh and Weizmann Institute of Science: The collaboration will explore how cells that line the blood vessels in the body develop. The information will be used to inform future work aimed at regenerating new blood vessels in damaged tissue.
  • How aging affects the blood and immune system — University of Cambridge and Weizmann Institute of Science: The project will establish how mutations in blood stem cells affect their function and will lead to a better understanding of why the blood and immune system deteriorate with age.
  • A new window into understanding, diagnosing and treating type 1 diabetes —  University of Exeter and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem: the project will combine two powerful new technologies developed by the investigators to ask whether insulin-producing cells can regenerate in some people with longstanding type 1 diabetes.
  • Combating Alzheimer’s disease: University Of Glasgow and Technion – Israel Institute of Technology: this research collaboration aims to understand how defective cleaning mechanisms contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s that may lead to new ways of treating the disease.

BIRAX was initiated 6 years ago by the British Council, the British Embassy in Israel and the UK Science & Innovation Network in collaboration with founding partners Pears Foundation and the UJIA. Through the initiative they teamed up with philanthropic foundations and leading UK medical research charities including the British Heart Foundation, JDRF, and Alzheimer’s Society.

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