Research on adult stem cells has been a focus area in Norway since 2002. As a result of new initiative and governmental backing, the Norwegian Center for Stem Cell Research (NCS) was established in 2003. The goal was to bring the stem cell researchers in the Nordic and Baltic areas together through joint research projects. The Research Council of Norway have granted 170 million Norwegian kroner in the 2002-2013 period, however they also finance other stem cell research through other programs. In 2010 six new projects were funded with 3 million Norwegian kroner. One project was to look at stem cells for tissue engineering of bone at the University of Oslo. In 2004/2005 the Norwegian government created a program whose main task was to increase the Norwegian contribution to global knowledge on science. In 2008/2009 the same government also started a new program called climate for research were the main goal was to increase the funds for research and science.
After the ban on embryonic stem cells research was lifted in 2008 the Government wanted to increase the focus on stem cell research. The Research Council of Norway has therefore increased the effort put into stem cell research, both on adult and embryonic stem cells through the program called the stem cell research program 2008-2012. An important part of the program was to establish the National Centre for Stem Cell Research in 2009, and the centre was given 28 million Norwegian kroner over a five year period. The projects started by the centre will be for the welfare of the patients, as well as showing that stem cells can be effective in medicinal treatment. Another aim is to increase the understanding of basic processes tied to growth and differentiating of stem cells from different sources and to bring forth cells or cell lines which can be used in therapeutic approaches.
Norway has a lot of different projects going on when it comes to adult stem cells, as this have been a prioritised field. Norway has taken a big step when it comes to the use of mesenchymal stem cells in cartilage- and bone regeneration. A team of scientists at the University of Oslo has already shown that it is possible to create cartilage cells from stem cells. Although they can grow almost 50 million cartilage cells from about 300 000 stem cells derived from a patient’s bone marrow, it will take 12 to 18 months to grow enough cartilage cells. There are 50 patients in this clinical study and it will take them at least two years to get some answers, but Prof. Lars Engbretsen, the person in charge of this study, is optimistic and believes that the therapy will be standard treatment in a couple of years. At Oslo University Hospital Ullevål there is also a research team focusing on cornea stem cells and other types of stem cells from the eye. Today it is possible to regenerate corneal tissue in patients with unilateral limbal stem cell deficiency. Growth and differentiation of stem cells is also the focus of many research groups in Norway, since this is the second aim of the stem cell research program 2008-2012.
When it comes to embryonic stem cell research Norway is still in the initial phase, since research on embryonic stem cells was banned until 2008. Today, projects concerning embryonic stem cell research in Norway are aiming to make distinct nerve cell types from human embryonic stem cells. One project focuses on creating a nerve cell from stem cells that has a central role in the memory function. The other project focuses on trying to create a nerve cell from stem cells which produce serotin. Serotin is a signalling substance involved in an array of neurological and psychological diseases, like depression, bipolar disease and sleep disorders. There are no clinical trials in Norway yet.
Research on induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells is also in an initial phase and iPS is therefore at the present used as a tool for studying sickness mechanisms. iPS-cells has been created from skincells in patients with Huntingtons disease, Parkinsons disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and type 1 diabetes. There is not much research in stem cells from umbilical cord blood in Norway. At the moment Norway is considering joining a clinical trial where stem cells from umbilical cord are used in treatment for chronic bone marrow injury, which is an ongoing project between the US and China.
Norway has since 1985 treated blood cancer with bone marrow transplant, an established therapy based on stem cell. In 1989 one started to search for bone marrow donors outside the family and the Norwegians Bone Marrow Registry (NORDONOR) was established. Although NORDONOR have been very successful, when the question about establishing an umbilical cord blood bank in 2005 was raised it was voted against. The arguments against establishing such a bio bank is that stem cells from umbilical cord blood are already available for Norwegians through banks in 36 other countries from Europe, North- and South-America, Asia and Australia. This is, according to the report, enough to cover the need in Norway (find another word). As in South Africa the problem is that there are few suitable donors for a patient with a non-European origin, like African. Another point is that it will not be economically viable for Norway to establish a bio bank with umbilical cord blood. In Norway today there are some private companies, like Cryo-Save and StemCare that offers to freeze down stem cells from umbilical cords. The stem cells are however, saved in banks that reside in Belgium and Denmark.
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