The Hematology Group has elaborated a strong interest in the biology and therapeutic use of stem cells. It investigates ex vivo expansion of hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) and particularly the relationships between cell cycle, expression of adhesion molecules and the migration and homing of HSC. It has acquired a solid expertise in the field of erythropoiesis. Very active research programs are carried out on mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) for tissue repair (liver, heart) and immunosuppression (notably in the field of HSC transplantation). Cardiac repair by G-CSF-mobilized stem cells is studied in a mouse myocardial infarction model. Hepatic repair by cord blood-derived stem cells is investigated in vitro and a mouse model. Immunosuppressive properties of MSC are investigated in vitro and in immunodeficient mice.
The Laboratory of Cell and Gene Therapy (LTCG) was build to GMP conditions in 2002 in the "Centre Hospitalier Universitaire" (CHU) of Liège. The LTCG is a GMP-compatible facility for the collection, processing (including cell selection, expansion cultures...), testing, storage and delivery of various cell types, including HSC, MSC, pre-osteoblasts, lymphocytes and dendritic cells. The lab also incorporates a R & D unit for development of new cell products for clinical use. It includes a large cord blood bank, the 6th in the world to obtain the quality label provided by the international FACT accreditation. The bank has more than 2,000 validated CB units and distributes 20-25 CB units/year. It also serves as the hub for the Belgian Cord Blood Bank, a collaborative effort of 3 Belgian CB banks. Stem cell research and expertise in clinical scale manipulation of cell products have allowed the transfer of numerous cell therapy applications to the clinical field. In particular, four clinical protocols using cultured MSC are ongoing in the CHU of Liège for bone repair (in (1) aseptic osteonecrosis and (2) pseudoarthrosis) and for their immunosuppressive effects after HSC transplantation ((1) co-infusion of HSC and MSC for prevention of graft rejection and GVHD in minitransplants; (2) treatment of acute GVHD and poor graft function). The 2 last protocols are multicenter (Belgium and The Netherlandts) studies and the LTCG produces and distributes the MSC products to all participating centers. Since 2008, the LTCG is hosting the SME Cardio3, offering its GMP infrastructure for the production of their cell products for their pivotal trial of cardiac cell therapy.
The Division of Clinical Hematology in the CHU of Liège is in charge of the diagnosis and treatment of hematological disorders. It has developed an important HSC transplant program for autologous and allogeneic HSC transplantation with family or unrelated marrow, peripheral blood or cord blood for malignant, genetic and other hematological disorders. The program is the second in size in Belgium (70-90 transplants/year). In this setting, the Department of Hematology carries out an important program of translational and clinical research, performing many clinical trials. These clinical trials include not only trials sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry or international cooperative groups, such as the European Blood and Marrow Transplant Group (EBMT), but also a number of academic trials. Among the later, several are multicenter, international trials led by our Department of Hematology. This is now facilitated by the fact that Yves Beguin is the chairman of the Transplant Committee of the Belgian Society of Hematology, thereby providing a network of clinical centers in which MSC-based clinical research protocols can be carried out more efficiently. Finally, participation in the Stem Cell committee of the EBMT has allowed participation into 2 MSC phase III international trials carried out under the EBMT that will start in early 2009.