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Scientists at the university of Oxford are conducting joint research programmes with Astrazeneca using industry-scale technology

This important work started as a meeting of minds at a scientific conference. DPUK’s Stem Cell Network Lead and the Head of Neuroscience Area Therapy at AZ conceived of the idea to re-examine thousands of AZ compounds through a resource that until now has not been available to industry scientists.

State-of-the-art technology helped to secure the partnership

DPUK invested in industry-scale stem cell processing technology at five UK university sites. The highly-automated technologies installed in the Stem Cells Network are now able to efficiently support collaborations with industry in discovering drugs that have therapeutic implications for neurodegenerative disease.

The technology we now have in Oxford vastly improves the efficiency, accuracy and precision of the biochemical testing we carry out here. Now that we are using equivalent technology, it means that industry are willing to engage with the expertise we can offer, and we can pool resources.
- Dr Deepak Kumar, Stem Cell Research Manager, University of Oxford

Working together to make the most of shared resources

DPUK enabled universities and industry to pool the best of their resources: over 4000 compounds and drugs developed by AZ and patient-specific cell models developed in the Wade-Martins' lab at the University of Oxford.

The joint team made use of key resources: available stem cell lines and optimised methods to produce patient-specific neurons. They carried out a set of processes known as ‘differentiation’ to develop these neurons.

Using the DPUK-funded stem cell technology, scientists at the University of Oxford are carrying out a range of advanced techniques on these patient-specific living brain cells derived from iPSCs. The AZ and university teams are sharing their analysis and processing techniques with each other as they carry out investigations of hundreds of AZ drugs to see if any have any positive effects.

While AZ contributes over 4000 compounds from its drug library, the University of Oxford provides ‘disease in a dish’ models of neurodegenerative disease. Being derived from samples from patients with and without neurodegenerative disease (such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's) makes these cells extremely valuable to the scientists. Researchers are able to test the effectiveness of a wide range of drugs provided by AZ in living cells outside the brain. The DPUK stem cell technology is allowing the team to do this more precisely and on a much bigger scale than ever before possible due to the high throughput, automated screening and imaging equipment now available.

There are thousands of drugs that are currently used for other diseases or have been shown to be safe but not treat the disease they were originally designed for. These drugs offer a fantastic opportunity to find new treatments. We’re re-testing thousands of drugs with the DPUK stem cell technology to discover target hits to potentially treat neurodegenerative diseases. - Dr Brent Ryan, OPDC Career Development Fellow, University of Oxford