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Statement on the stem cell research

We are committed to making life better for the millions of patients suffering from kidney disease. We recognise how important stem cell research is in understanding the causes of kidney disease and developing therapies to treat it.

In accordance with the Code of Practice for the Use of Stem Cell Lines, we only consider projects where adult or embryonic stem cell lines are used by bona fide researchers for justified and valuable purposes that comply with the UK's regulations.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are the ‘master’ cells in the human body. They can produce an identical copy of themselves when they divide, or change (or differentiate) into other cell types if they receive certain signals or are exposed to certain conditions in the lab or the body.

They can therefore play a crucial role in repairing damage.

There are several types:

  • Human embryonic stem cells – also called pluripotent stem cells - can divide into more stem cells or become any cell type in the body
  • Adult stem cells – found in small numbers in most adult tissues, such as bone marrow or fat, these can become various cells in the body
  • Adult cells reprogrammed to act similar to embryonic stem cells – induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – a potential alternative to embryonic stem cells that could avoid immune system rejection
  • Perinatal stem cells - stem cells in amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood – can change into specialised cells.

It is important to study stem cells because they can reveal clues to understand the causes of diseases, and might also lead to the discovery of potential treatments. Stem cells can also themselves replace damaged cells or tissues.

Using stem cells in medical research

The research we fund largely covers iPSCs derived from blood and stem cells derived from bone marrow and adipose (fat) tissue. We occasionally fund research involving human embryonic stem cells or perinatal stem cells, but it is very rare.

Using stem cells of any type in research is strictly regulated. Research on human embryos is only allowed for specific purposes and is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Under the initial Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990), the HFEA could only grant licences if the use of human embryos was for research designed to increase knowledge about the causes of congenital diseases. Regulations introduced in 2001 extended the permissible criteria to include research that increased knowledge about other serious diseases, which could be applied to the development of treatments for these diseases (The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001).

Important ethical issues must be taken into account when considering funding research using embryonic stem cells. We do this through our peer review process that all grant applications go through.

Reviewed: July 2021

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