Stem cell research centre opens in Galway

25 Feb 2005

A new stem cell research facility at NUI Galway will establish Ireland’s reputation in a pioneering and exciting area of clinical research, the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment Micheál Martin TD said this morning.

Speaking at the official opening of the Regenerative Medicine Institute (Remedi), the minister said: “The Remedi centre brings together a top team in gene therapy and stem cell research, continuing the Government’s investment in the clinical and academic infrastructure in the west and putting Ireland on the world map in this ground-breaking area of scientific research and development (R&D).”

Regenerative medicine aims to replace current conventional treatment techniques by focusing on minimally invasive approaches to disease treatment and cure through tissue repair, with a view to avoiding the need for organ replacement. The research has been controversial because some researchers are looking to use the stem cells from aborted foetuses for their research. However, it is understood the research policy at Remedi is that stem cells from adults rather than foetuses are used in research.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) is funding Remedi to the tune of €15m over five years. It is the second major SFI funding at the university in two years. In 2003, NUI Galway was awarded €12m by SFI to support the Digital Enterprise Research Institute. It is the only Irish university to acquire two facilities under SFI’s Centres for Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) programme and to be successful in all rounds of funding from the Higher Education Authority’s Programme for Third-Level Institutions (PRTLI) over the past four years.

Remedi is housed within the National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science, which was built with a €20m grant from the PRTLI to NUI Galway.

CSET policy dictates that institutes work alongside industry partners. In Remedi’s case, partnerships have been built with healthcare industry leaders Medtronic and Biolabs. “The links cover both pure and applied R&D and also product development,” said Minister Martin. “Industry partnerships such as these ensure that the research undertaken is practical and relevant to Ireland’s economic development and that Remedi remains internationally competitive, results oriented and focused on delivery.”

Remedi also has close links to University College Hospital, Galway and Merlin Park Hospital. These links and the creation of a number of posts for clinical investigators supported by the Western Health Board are seen as vital elements of this project. In partnership with clinical, academic and industrial collaborators, the institute aims to translate research advances in the laboratory into clinical practice.

The institute would also have an active schools programme, the minister noted. “Last year it ran a secondary-schools programme and is currently developing plans to interact more with primary schools. To ensure the long-term success of our economy we need to encourage more of our young people to consider science and engineering as a future career option and outreach projects such as this will play an important role in increasing awareness and understanding of the benefits of science and innovation.”

As chairman of the new Cabinet Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Innovation, which met for the first time last week, Minister Martin said that Ireland faced a challenge of moving from an investment-driven economy to an innovation and knowledge-driven one and that having world-class research facilities were essential to making this happen.

“Centres such as Remedi are catalysts for change and opportunity. The area of regenerative medicine is emerging as a major field of focus in curing disease worldwide and I know that this centre will spearhead international research in this area. Looking ahead, we look forward to the establishment of a patient-centred academic medical centre in Galway, based on Remedi research and harnessing the strong synergies that exist between the National University of Ireland and University College Hospital Galway.”

By Brian Skelly