Funding of six million euros to pave the way for stem cell treatment in Europe

Over the next five years, an EU grant of six million euros and a new method to culture stem cells from the fatty tissue of healthy donors will ensure that a Danish-developed stem cell treatment for patients with severe chronic heart failure will become the European standard treatment.

Rigshospitalet is to head a five-year international multi-centre study which, with six clinical departments from throughout Europe taking part, will help introduce stem cell treatment as a standard treatment. Previous studies from Rigshospitalet have shown that stem cells from bone marrow or fatty tissue (adipose tissue) can be beneficial for patients with reduced heart pumping power following coronary artery disease. However, up to now stem cell production has not been sufficient to complete international, standardised studies. Extensive funding from the EU and a radical improvement in the method of production have now made it possible for cardiologists to take a step further.

Rapid formation of stem cells

Among other things, with help from international collaboration partners, the new facilities at the Department of Clinical Immunology at Rigshospitalet have accelerated production of stem cells.

“The logistical challenges in culturing sufficient numbers of cells of uniform quality have been a barrier for a long time. But now things are different. Previously we used cells from patients’ own bone marrow and we had to grow them in plastic bottles for 6-8 weeks at a time, in order to obtain adequate amounts of cells for the same patient, but now we have started growing cells from the fatty tissue of healthy donors, which we store in a cell bank. This means that we can now deliver enough stem cells to treat 50 patients with cells from one single donor – and in a shorter time and of improved quality,” said Prof. Jens Kastrup, Consultant Surgeon at the Department of Cardiology, Rigshospitalet.

“In reality this means that we can start regular deliveries of high-quality stem cells, initially to other cardiac departments in Denmark and abroad, but later to treat other groups of patients as well. For example, an obvious area to examine is stem cell treatment for autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease.

Stem cell treatment must be easily accessible

The combination of culturing cells in bioreactors developed in Belgium, addition of a new US-developed blood platelet product, and a new type of organisation and production at the hospital, has made the route from donor to treatment much shorter. In Jens Kastrup’s opinion, this is vital if stem cell treatment is to become more widespread:

“If stem cell treatment is to be implemented at hospitals, it must be an easy and everyday treatment. It’s as simple as that. If the process becomes too complex logistically, nothing will happen. Therefore, we have tried to concentrate on how we can remove the obstacles which may stand in the way of developing and spreading stem-cell treatment. And organising cell banks close to hospitals is probably one of the ways to introduce a standardised stem-cell treatment option. Therefore I am very pleased that we now have facilities and funding to initiate a large international study with our skilled colleagues at cardiac departments abroad,” said Jens Kastrup.

This project is one of three large research projects which have now been launched in the Capital Region of Denmark and it is being financed by the EU framework programme for innovation and research; Horizon 2020. Cardiac departments from Germany, Poland, Austria, the Netherlands and Slovenia are taking part in the project, which is to start in January 2015.


Contact

Professor Jens Kastrup, Consultant Surgeon
The Heart Centre, Rigshospitalet
Telephone no: +45 3545 2819/3545 2817
Email: jens.kastrup@regionh.dk

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