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Posts from the ‘Profiles’ Category

Pete Coffey: Driving stem cells to the clinic

Pete Coffey*

Pete Coffey*

Professor Pete Coffey, Professor of Cellular Therapies at the Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London, is an MRC-funded researcher who is developing a stem cell therapy for a degenerative eye condition that is the leading cause of blindness in UK adults. He spoke to Katherine Nightingale about the long road to the clinic.

Researchers seldom like to predict how long it might be before their discoveries are tested in patients. “At least five years” is a typical response, but one that should usually be taken with a pinch of salt. Research is complex, there are many obstacles to overcome, and some promising ideas never get anywhere near a clinic.

All the more surprising then that Pete Coffey gave himself and his team five years from 2007 to ready a stem cell therapy for a degenerative eye condition for clinical trials. And perhaps more surprising still — he’s done it.

The condition in question is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Most people with AMD have the ‘dry’ form, which occurs when a carpet of cells behind the retina start to die. These retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells nourish the ‘seeing’ cells of the retina, as well as removing dead cells that would otherwise build up and cause damage. People with AMD gradually lose sight from a part of the retina called the macula, which is responsible for sharpness of vision in the centre of the visual field — the vision needed for reading, driving and recognising faces. There is no treatment for dry AMD.

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Andrew Jackson: Listening to brain cells

Andrew Jackson is a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow in the Newcastle University Institute of Neuroscience. He told Katherine Nightingale about research, part-funded by the MRC, which aims to decipher the brain patterns that control arm and hand function to help paralysed people.

Like many researchers who run their own lab, Andrew Jackson doesn’t spend as much time at the bench as he’d like. But he does get to spend the odd hour or two doing one of his favourite things — listening to brain cells.

“They become like old friends,” he says. “We’ve been able to track the same neuron over days, weeks and months and you start to get to know them quite well.”

There are important reasons for getting to know neurons. Andrew and his colleagues are hoping to use the knowledge they gain from listening in on the brain to allow paralysed people to control external devices such as prosthetic arms using just their thoughts. Read more

Greg Winter: Pioneering antibody drugs

Today the MRC is honouring two of our most eminent scientists with the MRC Millennium Medal which recognises research that has led to significant health and economic benefits. In the second of our profiles of the winners, Katherine Nightingale talks to Sir Greg Winter, who pioneered techniques that have led to antibody therapies for cancer, and diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. He has established hugely successful spin out companies and continues to develop new types of drugs.

Greg Winter (Copyright: Tony Pope)

Greg Winter (Copyright: Tony Pope**)

It was an elderly woman with lymphoma who changed things for Greg Winter. It was 1989 and the patient at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge was the first person to take Campath-1H, a human antibody that had been fused with parts of a rat antibody to attack cancerous lymphocytes. Read more