Stem cell research has progressed at a phenomenal pace and is rapidly contributing to providing new avenues to prevent and cure many currently untreatable diseases. The Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine (DBT-InStem) has set up excellent research facilities focused on this area, placing immensely talented faculty in the vibrant and nurturing ecosystem of the Bangalore Life Sciences Cluster (BLiSC). State-of-the art research laboratories, innovative well-funded research programmes and established procedures and policy have positioned DBT-inStem well, for achieving time-bound goals.
We envisage inStem as the “go to” place for stem cell research and application in India and a major contributor on the international stage in stem cell biology. While facilitating increased translation of the benefits of stem cells to society through regenerative medicine, inStem is also committed to social outreach.
Establishing a firm foundation in basic and translational stem cell research is essential for strengthening ongoing innovative, multidisciplinary collaborative approaches as well as for developing new ones. We aim to incorporate research areas that would strengthen fundamental research in human stem cell biology, seeding new areas for translation and regenerative medicine, while driving ahead the current thematic directions of inStem.
Programmes at inStem are contributing new conceptual insights into the basic biology of stem cells. Current research at inStem is broadly focused on hematopoietic, cardiac, epithelial, endothelial and neural diseases. Lifestyle and metabolic disorders such as diabetes and kidney disease are additional important areas that we aim to address.
Several stem cell therapies, especially for hematological and neurodegenerative diseases are already in clinical trials worldwide. Given the unique and vast resource of patient samples from diverse genetic backgrounds available in the country, inStem is carrying out in-depth studies of disease biology using stem cell models and clinical material as well as genetic and genomic data. This has led to the establishment of unique programs and centres at inStem. This includes the Accelerator Program for Discovery in Brain Disorder using Stem cells (ADBS), which focuses on using human genetics and stem cell technology from human clinical samples to understand why some individuals might be prone to developing mental illness, and the Centre for Stem Cell Research (CSCR) at CMC, Vellore, which has a major thrust on gene therapy, musculoskeletal regeneration and more. The CSCR also has a major focus on novel approaches of stem cells to hematological diseases such as thalassemia major, sickle cell disease and haemophilia.
Developing innovative technology for stem cell research and application, using multi-disciplinary approaches, is a key theme at inStem. Promoting development and application of novel methods for in vivo analysis and ex vivo manipulation of human stem cells for research and therapeutic application is a major goal. While we strengthen fundamental research with model organisms keeping in mind the current thematic directions of inStem, we are also driving ahead new areas for translation and regenerative medicine. The unique trans-disciplinary environment of the Bangalore Life Sciences Cluster (BLiSC) is a major advantage to facilitate innovation in stem cell science and for developing regenerative strategies. The Integrative Chemical Biology Theme and The Centre for Chemical Biology and Therapeutics are but two examples of programs of this nature. Additionally, inStem faculty collaborate with experts in physics, chemistry and engineering to develop innovative approaches for translation of knowledge gained from stem cell biology and therapeutic approaches.
In little over a decade inStem has attracted exceptionally motivated and talented young faculty, working in fluidly organized themes, on innovative approaches to understanding stem cell biology and regenerative mechanisms. inStem is looking forward to expanding the teams with recruitment of outstanding developmental and stem cell biologists with a strong foundation in genetics, cell and developmental biology. With an enabling research environment and mentoring, faculty will be able to take on leadership roles in stem cell research and policy.
Being India’s first stem cell institute, inStem has a major role in increasing critical mass in the area of stem cell research at all levels. The highly specialized training required, expensive nature of the research, commitments in time and long duration of the experiments, and comparison of career trajectory with less demanding areas are some of the challenges to be overcome. We aim to develop and nurture expertise in core areas of stem cell biology in easily accessible formats across the country, to generate an urgently required human resource and increase the pace of the field. Regular hands-on workshops, training programs and robust graduate programs will produce researchers with sound academic training and good technical skills to fulfill an unmet national and global need.
Contribution to formulating National Guidelines and Policy in stem cells, gene therapy, genome editing and reproductive technologies is essential for being able to hold our own and lay the path for others, both nationally and internationally. Through active training and international exposure researchers can gain sufficient expertise to be able to contribute to developing national and international guidelines and policy that will promote national interests while assuring safe and equitable access to the benefits of stem cell research.
Efforts at inStem and with its collaborators, have generated stem cells and products that represent the Indian genetic diversity and are accessible to stem cell researchers worldwide. Significant regional contribution to stem cell based research and therapies requires strengthening of links with the global South. Build-up of relevant areas based on disease burden as well as support for rare disease programs based on scientific evaluation is one of our goals.
While carrying out path breaking high-risk research, inStem believes that high quality productive explorations as well as public engagement must go hand-in-hand. A major blot on the stem cell field is the indiscriminate use of unproven therapies. Given the limited means for implementation of guidelines and policy, a proven way to protect people from unsafe therapies is to educate them, engage with them and empower them to take decisions. As a major advocate of stem cell science, inStem is initiating programs to educate policymakers and regulators, lead public engagement efforts and help in formulating international guidelines that would be applicable around the globe. For this to be effective, developing a multi-lingual glossary of scientific terms for the public is also important and is a goal of inStem.