The IGEN Centre is a new joint strategic initiative of Linköping University and the County Council of Östergötland, Sweden. Its mission is to bridge the translational gap from the basic science laboratory to the clinic in the area of regenerative medicine.
Interestingly, ‘igen’ means ‘again’ in Swedish. At the Linköping’s Integrative reGENerative Medicine (IGEN) Centre, the mission is to enable damaged or diseased organs to ‘grow again’.
“The biggest problems in solid organ transplantation today are the severe lack of organs and the severe side effects of immunosuppression (high risk of infection and tumorigenesis). The vision of IGEN is to tackle the organ shortage problem on a global basis by designing and developing new Advanced Therapeutics that enable regeneration without need for sustained immunosuppression”, Scientific Director Professor May Griffith explains.
“In addition, to ensure stable integration without immunosuppression, we need to monitor in real-time host-graft interactions from the organ to cellular level to obtain a complete picture correlating cellular/molecular processes with organ level events”.
The strategy and main strengths
The University strategy for establishing a new centre is to focus on areas for which there is already considerable strength within the Linköping region. These strengths are mainly in biomaterials and nanotechnology, especially as applied to imaging and biosensors, based on work carried out at the technical faculty.
“We also have two top Swedish haematopoietic stem cell biology laboratories, clinicians experienced in conducting clinical trials, the Centre for Molecular Imaging and Visualization (CMIV) and the Swedish National Burn Unit with its needs for, and work with advanced tissue engineering at the health sciences faculty. These groups and new incoming scientists from abroad with complementary biomaterials, gene transfer and stem cell reprogramming make up the current IGEN core membership”, Professor Griffith continues.
IGEN is an open-door research centre which means that any researcher at or affiliated with Linköping University is free to join. The goals of IGEN are primarily to encourage and enable multidisciplinary teams from basic science, technology and clinical medicine to work together and to bring the results of the research to clinical practice.
The joint teams are working on the development of novel modularly-designed biomaterials and biomaterial-stem cell implants, with or without an incorporated drug delivery system to restore function to damaged or diseased organs and tissue; and associated imaging/biosensing technologies to track the performance of grafts beyond surgery.
IGEN also ensures a continuum of R&D from bench to bedside, from a strong discovery module to a pre-clinical testing unit and further on to a clinical trials unit with enabling infrastructure to conduct early phase I and II human testing and follow-ups.
“Other key activities include training of a new generation of skilled regenerative medicine scientists for Swedish universities and the health care industry at large, as well as updating our expertise through attracting collaborations with researchers, clinicians and industry though our open door policy”, May Griffith underlines.
Collaborating across borders
Professor Griffith has brought forward revolutionary research within areas such as human vision restoration and re-growth of damaged tissue. Over a decade ago, Professor Griffith and her team began developing biosynthetic corneas in Ottawa, Canada, where she is originally from. As the work progressed, she embarked on a joint research project with Swedish researchers. Eventually, this collaboration led her to settle down in Linköping, becoming an important part of the Linköping University research team within integrated regenerative medicine. Professor Griffith brought her extensive research with her, thus opening new opportunities for the university to collaborate across disciplines as well as geographical borders.
Phase 1 clinical trials is the next step
As we conclude our interview, May Griffith sums up the main goals to be reached within the nearest future:
“For 2013 and 2014, we will be focused on bringing to fruition Phase 1 clinical trials in the areas of cornea, skin and vascular regeneration here at IGEN. Our intent is to have a long-term, stable translational centre for Regenerative Medicine in Linköping and the next two years will entail work towards this objective”.