Regenerative medicine: Dolly’s legacy, 25 years on
5 July 2021
25 years ago today, Dolly the Sheep was born at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, becoming the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell.
The establishment of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and the advancements it has made in stem cell research and regenerative medicine since are a direct legacy of this historic moment.
A focus on stem cells
Dolly was the first ever clone of an adult cell. Her birth proved that scientists could turn the clock back on a fully developed adult cell to make it behave like a cell from a newly fertilised embryo.
Dolly inspired further research by scientists across the globe, ultimately leading to the discovery of induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells. These are cells taken from a person, which are genetically reprogrammed in a laboratory to give them the ability self-renew and differentiate like embryonic stem cells, making them capable of forming all the different cell types found in an organism.
This discovery was a major development for stem cell research. Reprogramming cells in this way is something that scientists now use in the search for new treatments for major diseases.
In particular, iPS cells offer scientists the unique opportunity to explore and develop cell-based regenerative therapies, where cells are transplanted into a patient to replace or repair damaged tissue.
Centre for Regenerative Medicine established
The research team responsible for Dolly was led by Professor Sir Ian Wilmut.
Following the success of the cloning research, Ian began to focus on using cloning to make stem cells which could be used in regenerative medicine. In 2008, he established the Centre for Regenerative Medicine, a research centre dedicated to the study and development of new regenerative treatments, becoming its first Director.
Since its establishment, scientists and clinicians based at the Centre have continued to make breakthrough discoveries in the field of regenerative medicine.
Prof Keisuke Kaji made a major breakthrough in 2009, sucessfully refining a technique to make induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
Prof Ian Chambers’ group made fresh discoveries regarding the gene regulator Nanog. Named after Tír na nÓg, the mythical Celtic land of the ever-young, Nanog controls the efficiency with which stem cells create duplicate cells.
Prof Anura Rambukkana and his team at CRM found that bacteria were able to change the make-up of supporting cells within the nerve system, called Schwann cells, so that they took on the properties of stem cells.
Prof Stuart Forbes and his team received £2 million funding from the Medical Research Council and Innovate UK to start a clinical trial for liver disease patients using a new cell therapy to treat the condition. It was the world’s first clinical trial of a new type of cell therapy to treat liver cirrhosis.
Scientists at the CRM identified a molecule that drives the development of bile duct cancer. The research in mice and human cells sheds new light on what triggers the disease and how the illness progresses.
Prof Steve Pollard and his team used technology to modify the genes of neuronal stem cells in different ways, including engineering two mutations found in glioblastoma. This will allow the more detailed study of the precise effects of different genes and mutations in neuronal stem cells, providing models for glioblastoma to investigate the disease.
Professor Anna Williams and her team found that people with MS had different types of cells in the brain - oligodendrocytes - than healthy people.
Dolly's legacy continues
In 2015, The University of Edinburgh secured £10.7m capital funding to build a new research facility adjacent to CRM. The new building, together with the CRM building, will house the University's new Institute for Regeneration and Repair.
The Institute for Regeneration and Repair brings together multiple existing world-leading research centres, including the Centre for Regenerative Medicine and the Centre for Inflammation Research. It will be home to over 600 scientists and clinicians, seeking to understand stem cell biology, inflammation and disease to develop new therapies to heal damaged tissues
The ultimate aim of the new Institute is to develop new regenerative treatments and make these available to patients in the clinic. This would be a truly transformational achievement, just as Dolly’s birth was 25 years ago.