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28th May 2009, 3:58pm
Stem cell research in international spotlight
The Stem Cell Research Team Stem cell research by PhD students from the University of Lincoln was highlighted at a prestigious international conference attended by surgeons and academics from around the world.

Neil Jelly and Issam Hussain, PhD students in the University’s Department of Forensic and Biomedical Sciences, were invited to present papers at the 44th Congress of the European Society for Surgical Research (ESSR) in Nimes, France.

Meanwhile their colleague Andrew Sloan, a fellow PhD researcher, travelled to Helsinki, Finland, to give a presentation at the European Wound Management Association.

All three are members of the University of Lincoln’s Stem Cell Research Team, which is led by Dr Mohamed El-Sheemy, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Sciences at the University and a practising breast surgeon at Lincoln County Hospital, part of United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust.

The students were presenting work on an international stage for the first time. Neil and Issam will now have their work published in a book on the conference proceedings.

Neil (41) was nominated for the conference’s best research prize for his study into the resistance of breast cancer cells to chemotherapy drugs.

Chemotherapy drugs are routinely used in the treatment of malignancies, yet many cancers are either already resistant to them or develop resistance during treatment.

Neil is conducting a molecular and cellular evaluation of multi-drug resistance in human breast cancer cells. It is hoped the work, a joint research project between the University of Lincoln and United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, will help clinicians develop more suitable courses of treatment for breast cancer patients.

Clinical assessment of chemotherapy can be difficult and may not detect any beneficial response until after several courses of treatment. Many patients therefore may be subjected to toxic, expensive and inappropriate cytotoxic agents, resulting in more morbidity.

Neil said: “This research is anticipated to develop methods that accurately evaluate the presence of drug resistance and the identification of more effective chemotherapeutic regimens and combinations, lessening the toxic effect on normal human cells. These may lead eventually to improvements in treatment outcome and decrease morbidity of cancer patients with drug resistance.”

Issam (34) is evaluating the potential of using human umbilical cord blood as a source of non-haematopoietic stem cells for clinical transplantation.

Umbilical cord blood is not currently recognised as a rich source of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). MSCs are very useful for in vitro studies because they can differentiate into blood vessels, nerve cells and mycoytes (muscle cells).

The traditional source of MSCs has been stromal cells from bone marrow. However extracting bone marrow samples from patients requires an invasive and painful procedure. Issam’s research explores whether umbilical cord blood could be used as an alternative source of MSCs to bone marrow.

He said: “Previous studies showed that a disadvantage in using umbilical cord blood-derived non-haematopoietic stem cells in clinical applications was the low number of MSCs present in samples. Therefore, in this study, the isolation, proliferative effects and characterisation of MSCs are investigated.”

Andrew’s research examines the biochemical effects of tobacco smoking on fracture healing.

Clinical studies have shown that smoking can be a major contributor to delayed fracture healing. One study reported that a fractured tibia will take on average one month longer to heal in smokers than non-smokers. However, the cellular and molecular basis for this has been, until now, poorly studied and few experiments have involved human tissues.

Andrew (37) said: “The aims of this project are to study the effects of tobacco smoking at the cellular and molecular level within the fracture environment. Fracture haematoma samples are collected from consenting anaesthetised patients who have sustained a tibial fracture and who are undergoing surgery to repair their damaged bones. The donated material is then explanted into tissue culture flasks in the laboratory. Stem cells and molecular growth factors that are involved in fracture healing are extracted from the specimens and observed in vitro, to see if tobacco smoking has an effect on them.”

Andrew’s work has been nominated for a young investigator prize at the joint meeting of the European Tissue Repair Society and the International Society for Wound Healing, which takes place in France in August.

Dr El-Sheemy said: “These different research projects have one theme in common, which is the involvement of the stem cell. Stem cells are at the forefront of medical research and I am very pleased that two of the research students have been nominated for prizes at these international meetings. This means that our research programme is well appreciated at the international level. This will magnify the research profile at the University of Lincoln and the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust.”

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