History of CRM

History of CRM and University of Edinburgh stem cell research.

The University of Edinburgh has a strong history in stem cell research, dating back to the first stem cell publications in the early 1990s by researchers at the Centre for Genome Research. In 1996 Prof Austin Smith was appointed as Director of this centre and under his leadership it became the first Institute of Stem Cell Research (ISCR) in the UK.

Over the years ISCR developed into a world leading centre for multidisciplinary research in basic stem cell biology, dedicated to developing an understanding of the mechanisms underlying stem cell self-renewal and differentiation processes.

In 2008, ISCR scientists at the University's School of Biological Sciences joined efforts with their colleagues at the College for Medicine and Veterinary Medicine to form the Centre for Regenerative Medicine, a unique cross-college initiative directed by Professor Sir Ian Wilmut.

The CRM building (or Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine) was officially opened in 2012 by HRH Princess Royal and received substantial funding from the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise.

CRM at 10

In 2018, CRM celebrated its 10th anniversary. Here are some of our highlights from those 10 incredible years.

2009 - Safer stem cells for humans

Dr Keisuke Kaji made a major breakthrough in 2009, sucessfully refining a technique to make induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

2010 - Professor Sir Ian Wilmut passes on the baton to Prof Charles ffrench-Constant

After Ian’s ground-breaking work to establish CRM, it was Prof Charles ffrench-Constant who took the helm in 2010 to become CRM’s second director. It was also the year that Charles and Prof Siddharthan Chandran played a pivotal role in setting up the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic. 

2011 – CRM staff and students move into the Centre for Regenerative Medicine building

It took 5 years of planning and 3 years to build, but in 2011 the first CRM staff moved into their new home at 5 Little France Drive.

2012 - Better understanding of how stem cells are controlled

Prof Ian Chambers’ group made fresh discoveries regarding the gene regulator Nanog. Named after Tír na nÓg, the mythical Celtic land of the ever-young, Nanog controls the efficiency with which stem cells create duplicate cells.

2013 - Bacteria’s hidden skill could pave way for stem cell treatments

Prof Anura Rambukkana and his team at CRM found that bacteria were able to change the make-up of supporting cells within the nerve system, called Schwann cells, so that they took on the properties of stem cells. 

2014 - Cell therapy trial offers new hope to liver disease patients

Prof Stuart Forbes and his team received £2 million funding from the Medical Research Council and Innovate UK to start a clinical trial for liver disease patients using a new cell therapy to treat the condition. It was the world’s first clinical trial of a new type of cell therapy to treat liver cirrhosis.

2015 - Skin scent offers Parkinson’s hope

In 2015, Dr Tilo Kunath started a research project to investigate whether Parkinson’s disease could be diagnosed from skin swabs. The research was prompted by a woman with an acute sense of smell, Joy Milne, who approached Tilo at one of his public engagement events at CRM.

2016 - Notch3 drives Cholangiocarcinoma

Scientists at the CRM identified a molecule that drives the development of bile duct cancer. The research in mice and human cells sheds new light on what triggers the disease and how the illness progresses.

2017 - Brain cancer screening hope

Dr Steve Pollard and his team used technology to modify the genes of neuronal stem cells in different ways, including engineering two mutations found in glioblastoma. This will allow the more detailed study of the precise effects of different genes and mutations in neuronal stem cells, providing models for glioblastoma to investigate the disease.

2018 - Stem cell liver implants show promise

A study by Prof David Hay and colleagues found liver tissue implants supported liver function in mice with a type of liver disease. This suggests that liver tissue grown from stem cells could one day replace the need for liver transplants.

Institute for Regeneration and Repair

In 2015, The University of Edinburgh secured £10.7m capital funding to build a new research facility adjacent to CRM. Construction of the IRR North building began in October 2017. The new IRR South building, together with the CRM building (now IRR North), house the University's Institute for Regeneration and Repair, which was formally opened by HRH The Princess Royal in January 2024.

The Institute for Regeneration and Repair seeks to understand stem cell biology, inflammation and disease to develop new therapies to heal damaged tissues. It incorporates researchers from the CRM, the Centre for Inflammation Research and the Centre for Reproductive Health.