In autumn 2014, Bergen Stem Cell Consortium (BSCC) was awarded strategic research funding for the period 2015–2019 by Det regionale Samarbeidsorganet i Helse Vest (the regional committee for research and cooperation in the Western Norway health region).
Bergen Stem Cell Consortium is a research initiative that intends to function as a catalyst for stem cell research in Western Norway, led by and located in Helse Bergen health trust. BSCC will strengthen the translational work at the Haukeland University Hospital and actively recruit new collaborators working with stem cells from the whole Western region. The initiative is a collaboration between six local research groups that work in the field of stem cell research and share the goal of generating basic scientific knowledge about the use of stem cells and introducing personalized stem cell-based treatment for patients.
About Bergen Stem Cell Consortium (BSCC)
Helse Bergen health trust has provided clinical stem cell treatment since 1996. Since then, the health trust has had regional responsibility for treating patients who need high-dose treatment with autologous stem cell support. Since 2005, the health trust has shared national responsibility for allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantations with Oslo University Hospital. Stem cells are harvested and stored by the Department of Immunology and Transfusion Medicine at Haukeland University Hospital. The clinical transplant activities take place at the Section for Hematology, the Department of Internal Medicine, the Department of Oncology and Medical Physics, and the cancer section at the Children's Clinic.
BSCC.pngA total of 350 stem cell transplants have been carried out in Bergen. The lack of premises suitable for growing stem cells for use in patient treatment (ex vivo expansion) has limited the possibilities for further developing the range of therapeutic measures available to patients in the Western Norway health region. As yet, this has not had clinical consequences for stem cell patients.
Nevertheless, Helse Bergen has had to reject requests for stem cell isolation and cultivation in connection with clinical projects in Stavanger and Bergen. Work has now been initiated to build a new accredited ex vivo facility at Haukeland University Hospital, which will make it possible to transfer the Western Norway Regional Health Authority's clinical stem cell activities back home. Bergen Stem Cell Consortium's research work is indicative of the new possibilities that this laboratory represents – for patient-focused research that goes hand in hand with advanced personalized treatment. This means that we can carry out every step of the treatment locally. Specifically, the new laboratory will make it possible to grow new tissue from patients' own stem cells. In addition, it will be possible to work on stem cells so that they can be used for different treatment purposes.
The head of Bergen Stem Cell Consortium is Professor Einar K. Kristoffersen, head of the Department of Immunology and Transfusion Medicine. Professor and Senior Consultant Helge Ræder at the Children's Clinic and Professor Kamal Mustafa at the university's Department of Clinical Dentistry are deputy heads, in addition to leading research groups of their own.
The project manager is Professor Tor Hervig, chief medical officer at the Department of Immunology and Transfusion Medicine. Hervig and the heads of the six research groups are members of the steering committee.
The steering committee holds regular meetings, and bi-monthly professional seminars are also held at which all groups present the status of their projects.
Operational and organisational responsibility for the ex vivo facility
Both the head of the Department of Immunology and Transfusion Medicine, Einar Kristoffersen, and the head of the Laboratory Medicine and Pathology Department, Gunnar Mellgren, are members of the project's steering committee.
Project manager Tor Hervig is a Senior Consultant at the Department of Immunology and Transfusion Medicine. He reports directly to Einar Kristoffersen, who is head of the department that has been assigned operational responsibility for the ex-vivo laboratory at Haukeland University Hospital.
Two researchers and a biomedical engineer were appointed positions in 2016 to work within the field of stem cell research, Kimberley Hatfield (researcher and leader) and Tilo Eichler (researcher and co-leader), and Merete Kallekleiv (specialized biomedical engineer). They will contribute to the establishment of the ex vivo laboratory and the development of research methods, as well as supporting other stem cell research in Western Norway.
The researchers and engineer will work actively on establishing a GMP-certified ex vivo laboratory at Haukeland University Hospital. Once this laboratory is in place, we will be able to conduct complete clinical stem cell trials. This means that patients can be treated with cell products manufactured in Bergen. The stem cells used in currently ongoing clinical trials have been produced in Ulm in Germany and in Oslo. This is expensive and cumbersome, but it is necessary because our laboratories do not meet the strict requirements that apply to facilities for growing cells for clinical use.
Helse Stavanger health trust and the University of Stavanger are involved in parts of the Blood Stem Cell Research Group's research, and the Helse Fonna health trust also has collaboration with these research milieus. The Adipose Stem Cell Research Group is collaborating closely with research groups in Helse Førde health trust, Helse Fonna-Haugesund, and Helse Bergen-Voss.
Developing regional cooperation is a clear ambition of BSCC. We have ongoing discussions with the Division of Haematology and Oncology at Stavanger University Hospital and have concrete plans for a joint PhD project. The meeting concluded with a decision to sign a letter of intent regarding further cooperation. The discipline environments at all health trusts under the Western Norwegian Regional Health Authority will be invited to take part in the annual stem cell meetings organized by the Bergen Stem Cell Consortium.
BSCC has appointed two researchers and an engineer with expertise in the field of stem cell research. These personnel will also help to implement relevant methods to be used throughout the region, and it will be possible for personnel from other research groups to be temporarily seconded to Bergen.