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Oxford - Axol collaboration secure funding to grow brains in the lab

Staining of human iPSC-derived neurons in culture. Copyright: Esther Becker, University of Oxford

News from: University of Oxford

Growing brain cells in the lab to help study neurological disorders in humans and develop new treatments and therapies is a step closer thanks to a new collaboration and funding from BBSRC.

Researchers at the University of Oxford, in a new industry partnership with Axol Bioscience of Cambridge, are collaborating to create human models of the cerebellum with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) for studies of neurological disorders.

Neurological disorder-associated deaths have increased by 39% in the UK since 2000, with over 10 million people living with a neurological condition that has a significant impact on their lives.

Due to a lack of translatable models that provide an accurate basis to study neurological disorders in humans, developing new treatments and therapies for these conditions is challenging. However, this could soon change.

Esther Becker, Associate Professor in Neurobiology at the University of Oxford, says: “This [collaboration] allows us for the first time to study developing human nerve cells in the laboratory and to coax them into forming a brain-like structure. In our case, we plan to instruct the human iPSCs to organize into a cerebellum-like tissue”.

Professor Becker made the BBSRC joint-funding application earlier this year after being introduced to Axol Bioscience, a biotech firm who specialise in human cell culture technologies, through IN-PART’s matchmaking platform for university-industry collaboration.

The Oxford-Axol collaboration has been awarded BBSRC funding in the form of an iCASE studentship, a joint-managed PhD project that will develop a reproducible method for generating specific and mature subpopulations of human cerebellar neurons in the lab.

The majority of new candidate drugs developed to treat neurological disorders fail in Phase II and III clinical trials, with very few making it to Phase IV approval.

What’s more, in recent years there have been significant project shutdowns and facility closures in the neuroscience wings of the pharmaceutical industry. This is thought to be due to safety issues, low success rates, and increasing R&D costs.

The goal of the Oxford-Axol collaboration will be to model aspects of human cerebellar development that could in the future be used as platforms for the screening of future therapeutic treatments. The OxfordAxol researchers will carry out extensive studies into brain development, as well as the molecular and cellular processes that go wrong in central nervous system diseases.

“It’s fantastic to see that the iCASE studentship was awarded. I look forward to seeing how the project develops and hope this is the start of a great relationship between the two institutes,” said Dr. Siobhan Dennis, Industry Partnerships Manager at the University of Oxford.



UK Research and Innovation Media Office

Tags: news health stem cells human health University of Oxford