Galway University has received the green light to open’s Ireland’s first stem cell manufacturing unit.

The new unit at the National University will produce stem cells for humans after it received a license from the Irish Medicines Board.

The Irish Times reports that NUI Galway’s Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland will culture adult stem cells to help with the treatment of arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and associated conditions.

The new Galway centre will be one of only six in Europe authorised for stem cell manufacture.

The facility has been developed by researchers at the university’s Regenerative Medicine Institute.

The paper reports that stem cells serve as the body’s repair mechanism and can be isolated from tissues such as bone marrow and fat, and cultured in laboratory settings.

The report adds that embryonic stem cells have been highly valued for their ability to turn into any type of cell in the body, but scientists can now use reprogrammed adult skin cells to create a stem cell that is very similar to embryonic versions.

The center was opened on Monday by Minister of State for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock.

The paper adds that the Health Research Board and Science Foundation Ireland have approved funding for clinical trials there on using mesenchymal stem cells – cells that can differentiate into a variety of types – for treatment of critical limb ischemia, a condition associated with diabetes that can result in amputation.

Prof Tim O’Brien, director of the new unit, told the Irish Times that the stem cells must be grown in the laboratory to generate sufficient quantities, following their isolation from the bone marrow of adult donors, and the facility will help Ireland to develop therapies for a broad range of clinical problems which do not have effective treatments.

He said, “It will also allow us to translate discoveries from the basic stem cell research programme led by Prof Frank Barry at the Science Foundation Ireland-funded REMEDI to the clinic, and to be competitive for grant funding under the Horizon 2020 programme of the EU.”

He explained that stem cell research in Ireland is in what scientists have described as a ‘legislative lacuna,’ but this relates to use of embryonic stem cells and does not in any way inhibit the use of adult stem cells.

He added, “We can only engage in clinical trials with clinical authorization from the IMB and approval from the hospital ethics committee, and we are currently seeking such approval for clinical trials.

“The license to manufacture is an essential prerequisite to seek permission to undertake clinical trials. The license certificate must be included with the clinical trial authorisation application.”