Dutch scientists to open institute for stem cell research in Russia

10 October 2012

An international consortium of scientific institutes led by the Groningen-based ERIBA, in cooperation with Hubrecht Institute and MIT, has been invited to set up a new institute for research into stem cells, based in the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (SkTech) close to Moscow.

The foremost aims of the Skolkovo Center for Stem Cell Research are to expand fundamental knowledge of stem cells and advance the study of stem cells in Russia. The Russian government has reserved funding worth US$ 50 million for this project; US$ 16,6 million of this sum will go to the Dutch participants ERIBA - the institute for research into ageing at the UMCG and the University of Groningen - and the Hubrecht Institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the UMCU in Utrecht. The final sum is still being negotiated. Other consortium partners include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and four Russian institutes.

In a move to stimulate research and innovation, Russia is building a Silicon Valley-style technology park in Skolkovo, where top researchers, businesses and investors will work together in the field of IT, energy, aerospace, biomedical science and nuclear technology. In 2011, a university was opened in the technology park. SkTech will house various research centres, each with its own focus on a specific field. MIT has been involved to select the research centres and help SkTech with its development over the next five years. The Skolkovo Center for Stem Cell Research (SCSCR) was one of the first three centres to be selected from the 129 applications.

Thirteen scientists will be involved in setting up the new stem cell research institute. They include Peter Lansdorp, Gerald de Haan and Eugene Berezikov from ERIBA, and Alexander van Oudenaarden and Hans Clevers from the Hubrecht Institute and the UMCU. Rudolf Jaenisch, Rick Young and Peter Reddien from MIT are also taking part.

These researchers will be providing the stem cell institute with expertise in the area of education, research and start-up companies. In addition, they will help with the recruitment and selection of Russian and international biology and bioinformatics students and junior researchers. These students and junior researchers will be trained in the laboratories of the scientists who work for the partner institutes, before moving on to work in Skolkovo. A graduate programme for stem cell biology is also being established.

Peter Lansdorp: ‘Skolkovo is a promising experiment. The international cooperation will certainly enhance knowledge of stem cells while giving Russian students an opportunity to train in the best labs in the world before carrying out pioneering research in Skolkovo.’

Alexander van Oudenaarden: ‘This is a fantastic initiative that could serve as an example of how universities and institutes throughout the world can join forces to help build new scientific institutes in countries where the required knowledge is not yet available. I am very keen to start this project along with our national and international colleagues.’

Researchers in the new stem cell institute will work on various research lines, including identifying and isolating adult stem cells from tissues and organs, producing induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) and reprogramming cells. Designing stem cell models for research into neurodegenerative diseases, cancer and auto-immune diseases will eventually lead to new stem cell treatment and drugs for patients.

The Russian participants in the consortium are Sergey Kiselev from the Vavilov Institute of General Genetics in Moscow, Konstantin Skryabin from the Center for Bioengineering in Moscow, Alexey Tomlin from the Institute of Cytology in Saint Petersburg and Nikolay Kolchanov from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk.