WORK starts today on a £3.8m upgrade of fertility and stem cell research facilities at a leading science centre.

The investment, at the Centre for Life, in Newcastle, will form part of the Science City project, and will make the centre eligible for a £9.8m Science City grant from regional development agency One NorthEast - making the North-East one of the world's top ten centres for stem cell research by 2010.

The project is being led by the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, a partnership between One NorthEast, Newcastle and Durham universities, The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust and the Centre for Life.

Alan Clarke, chief executive of One NorthEast, said: "This is good news for the region and for the development of Science City as the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine is recognised as one of the five UK centres of excellence in this exciting new area of life science and healthcare."

Alastair Balls, Centre for Life chief executive, said: "We look forward to continuing our collaboration with our colleagues in developing this highly exciting and innovative cutting-edge science and its clinical application."

Professor Christopher Edwards, vice-chancellor of Newcastle University, said: "In the next few years, we aim to begin therapeutic stem cell trials to ameliorate a range of diseases.

"Research, ethical discussion and public engagement, as we can combine them at the Centre for Life, are all key elements."