Our nine research teams are collaborating to advance understanding of the cells within the thymus, one of the central organs in the immune system. Our goal is to develop and test novel approaches for thymus replacement or regeneration, in order to pave the way for new stem cell based therapies to repair the thymus.

Previous clinical research has shown that transplanting a thymus into patients can be an effective way to repair and restore the immune system. The thymus tissue used for these transplants came from patients undergoing heart surgery and would normally have been discarded, since the thymus is removed routinely during some heart operations. However, an alternative, more sustainable and large-scale source of thymus tissue must be found before this type of treatment can become routine.

 

What we will do

We plan to:

  • establish methods for growing human thymus stem cells in the lab, or for making human thymus cells from other types of cell that we can already grow easily in the lab, such as embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells
  • test whether transplantation of these lab-grown cells can improve immune system function
  • use tissue engineering to develop a fully functional artificial thymus suitable for transplantation
  • develop procedures for long-term storage of human thymus cells using a technique called cryopreservation (storage at very low temperatures) and for ensuring strict quality control of lab-grown thymus cells
  • produce information and educational tools to share our research with members of the public across Europe

 

For further information about the different types of stem cells used in our work, take a look at the fact sheets available from EuroStemCell.