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Top award for the inventor of mini-kidneys

by Niall Byrne | Jul 30, 2018

In the past year Melissa Little has:

  • Grown mini-kidneys using stem cells derived from adult skin cells
  • Shown these mini-kidneys can mature in a mouse and filter blood
  • Started using these mini-kidneys to model kidney disease, screen for drugs and explore therapies
  • Led the team that attracted 2,800 stem cell researchers to Melbourne last month
  • Served as President of the Australian Society of Stem Cell Research
  • Taken up leadership of Stem Cells Australia.

Her vision is that she will be able to use stem cells to treat kidney disease affecting nearly one in ten Australians. It won’t be easy and it will take years, but she believes she can make it happen during her career.

Melissa Little (Bottom left), pictured with Health Minister The Hon Greg Hunt, NHMRC leadership and fellow award recipients

On Wednesday 26 June, Melissa received the National Health and Medical Research Council Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship – Biomedical. The Fellowship is named after 2009 Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn who discovered how chromosomes are protected by telomeres. Melissa was one of 20 of Australia’s finest health and medical researchers honoured at the NHMRC’s annual Research Excellence Awards in Canberra. 

Melissa is an internationally-respected leader in the development of ‘mini-organoids’ from stem cells. She leads cell biology and kidney research at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne.

Congratulations Melissa!

Read the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s media release about her award:

MCRI Stem Cell Scientist Named Top Australian Woman in Biomedical Science

Professor Melissa Little, the stem-cell expert who developed ‘mini-kidneys’ at Melbourne’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, has received one of Australia’s top awards for a woman in medical research.

Prof Little, who grew mini-kidneys (called organoids) in a dish from human stem cells, was awarded the Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship at a presentation in Canberra last night.

“This award is named after Professor Blackburn, an Australian woman scientist who received a Nobel Laureate for her ground-breaking work on chromosomes in 2009,” Prof Little said.

“As a scientist, a woman and a mother, it’s a great honour to receive this award.

“I hope other women will see this and know what it is possible to achieve in research. It would be great if it also inspired more girls to begin a career in science.”

Prof Little was one of 20 Australian health and medical researchers honoured at the National Health and Medical Research Council’s annual Research Excellence Awards. More than 5,400 scientists had been nominated for the prizes.

“The National Health and Medical Research Council has been supporting my research for more than 25 years. This basic research was essential to our breakthrough discovery,” she said.

The organoids, developed by Prof Little, were grown over three weeks from human stem cells available from skin or blood.

“One in 10 Australians has kidney disease,” Prof Little said. “We hope that one day we will be able to recreate these organs using stem cells.”

Prof Little said the mini-kidneys also had the potential to screen for the effects of drugs on the kidneys.

 “We also hope that in the near future drugs can be tested on kidney organoids,” she said. “This may prevent patients from exposure to drugs that could damage their kidneys and find new drug treatments for kidney disease.”

Prof Little is known internationally for her research on kidney development and her pioneering studies into renal regeneration. She chaired the recent International Society for Stem Cell Research, held in Melbourne last week, at which 2800 international stem cell researchers shared their results.

Prof Little’s discovery has received numerous awards, including the 2016 Eureka Prize for Scientific Research. She was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2017.

In early 2017, Prof Little was appointed Program Leader of Stem Cells Australia, an Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative that develops innovative ways to harness the potential of stem cells.

Prof Little heads the Kidney Research Laboratory at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. She is a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne, the President of the Australian Society of Stem Cell Research and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences.


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We aim to:

  • Promote the study and use of stem cells

  • Prevent or control diseases or illness

  • Enhance public education about stem cells