Stem Cell Biology

Drug discovery in the last 40 years has been impeded by the lack of human disease models to complement animal model-driven research. The development of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology has revolutionised regenerative medicine and rendered the possibility of personalized medicine a reality.

This technology allows stem cells to be created from small skin biopsies and these cells can be converted to any cell type in the body such as brain and heart cells. Science Foundation Ireland, NUI Galway and Galway University Foundation have strongly supported stem cell research culminating in the creation of a Professorship in Fundamental Stem Cell Biology awarded to Professor Sanbing Shen. His team has generated iPSCs from over 30 individuals including healthy controls and patients with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and Long QT syndrome (LQTS), in collaboration with Professors Louise Gallagher, Orla Hardiman, Terrence Prendiville, Timothy O'Brien and other Irish clinicians.

Finding functional abnormalities of patient's brain and heart cells, which can be used to develop scalable drug screening assays, has been a major challenge. This research programme at NUI Galway in collaboration with partners throughout Ireland has received a major boost as Galway University Foundation has funded the purchase of Multiple Microelectrode Array (MEA) equipment. The MEA cell culture plates contain hundreds of micro-wires, upon which brain and heart cells can be placed. The electrical properties of brain and heart cells can be recorded and compared with healthy cells before and after drug administration allowing novel therapies to be discovered. This research is now possible due to the generosity of our donors.