By definition, pluripotent stem cells are able to generate any one of the cell types that contribute to adult tissues and therefore offer significant potential for cell replacement therapies for the treatment of chronic and degenerative diseases. Rather than merely treating the symptoms of disease, the availability of standardised and renewable sources of cell types for the replacement of those compromised through disease or the natural process of ageing may be fully restorative, offering potential cures. One of the greatest obstacles to realising this vision is the ability of the recipient's immune system to mount an immune response against the foreign tissue, causing its rejection in much the same way as it might reject an organ allograft. Research in Oxford aims to determine the nature and magnitude of the immunological barriers that operate in the unique context of cell replacement therapy while developing novel approaches to the induction of immunological tolerance in order to secure the indefinite survival of the grafted tissue.
Although the challenges that immunology poses for regenerative medicine should not be underestimated, stem cells also offer many opportunities for intervention in disease states with an underlying immunological basis. Understanding the role played by stem cells in constructing primary lymphoid tissues such as the thymus may, for instance, suggest strategies for its subsequent restoration in old age following thymic involution. Furthermore, the use of pluripotent stem cells as a source of dendritic cell and T cell subsets provides unparalleled opportunities for intervening in the outcome of an immune response through strategies for immunotherapy, a field which has a long and fruitful history in Oxford.