August 2014

Let’s talk about the potential, reality and dangers of stem cells

Welcome to the Foundation’s bulletin on stem cell science and news, and our work in supporting stem cell research in Australia.
Last month we celebrated two emerging stem cell leaders, the inaugural winners of our Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research. The $50,000 awards presented to Kaylene Young and Jose Polo will accelerate their research programs.
This month we’re holding a national tour exploring the potential, reality and dangers of stem cells, with visiting speakers American stem cell pioneers Irv Weissman and Ann Tsukamoto.
Irv is the discoverer of human blood-forming stem cells, while Ann is a leader in the commercial development of stem cell medicine, with a particular interest in neural stem cell research. They will join local experts in each city for a series of public forums that discuss both the potential benefits and risks of stem cell therapies. Read on to find out more about the speaking tour events.
The dangers and possibilities of treatments have been highlighted in the media in recent weeks. Stem cell tourism and experimental treatments were the topic of two prime time television shows: SBS Insight and ABC Head First. Read on for more about these television shows. Last month also saw the sad news of the passing of an Australian mother-of-two who died while visiting Russia for stem cell treatment.
Like many, I was moved by the heartbreaking stories of patients seeking cures and answers. Our speaker tour aims to provide people with information for making informed choices about their health. Professor Martin Pera’s concluding comment on Insight highlights the importance of balancing clinical science and patient expectations:
“I think from a scientific point of view we're very optimistic about this field… but we do have a responsibility not to raise false hope, and responsibility to ‘do no harm’.”
Finally, it has been our delight to send five bright young Australian stem cell researchers to an international scientific meeting in Canada. We share their stories in this bulletin. This new generation of stem cell scientists gives us great hope for the future.
Kind regards,
Dr Graeme L Blackman OAM
Chairman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia (NSCFA)

In this bulletin:

  • Public forums: Stem cells—the potential, the reality and the dangers
  • Stem cell tourism in the spotlight
  • Foundation grants take young investigators to Canada
  • Prizes awarded to accelerate emerging research leaders
  • Stem cell news from around the world

Public forums: Stem cells—the potential, the reality and the dangers

Foundation presents free public forums in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne
When will stem cell medicine deliver on its promise for challenges like cancer, neurological diseases and tissue regeneration? What’s holding us back after the years of hype? Why is it a bad idea to pursue unproven stem cell treatments?
These questions will be explored in a series of free public forums, featuring two of America’s top stem cell scientists, Professor Irv Weissman and Dr Ann Tsukamoto, who are also husband and wife. Local experts in each city will join them on stage, with opportunities for questions from the audience.
Professor Weissman discovered human blood-forming (‘haemopoietic’) stem cells and has a long history of research into normal and cancer stem cells. Dr Tsukamoto is a leader in the commercial development of stem cell medicine. She will talk about neural stem cell research and current clinical trials.
Locations and dates:
SYDNEY:         6pm Monday 25 August, Masonic Centre, 66 Goulburn Street, Sydney
BRISBANE:     6pm Tuesday 26 August, Queensland Irish Club, 175 Elizabeth Street, Brisbane
ADELAIDE:     6pm Thursday 28 August, SAHMRI Building, North Terrace, Adelaide
MELBOURNE: 6pm Monday 1 September, Melbourne City Conference Centre, 333 Swanston St, Melbourne

Free, but register online via Eventbrite

Stem cell tourism in the spotlight

Stem cell hype and hope the subject of two prime time television shows
(Left) Filmmaker Sabour Bradley with stem cell ‘tourist’ Perry Cross; (Right) The studio audience at SBS Insight
Stem cell treatments and tourism were hot topics on Australian television in July

SBS television’s Insight broadcast a discussion on stem cells, featuring a panel that brought together stem cell researchers, practitioners offering controversial treatments, patients and patient advocates. The episode can be viewed online.
Over at ABC, the Head First episode ‘Stem Cell Highway’ saw adventurer and filmmaker Sabour Bradley travel with two Australian ‘stem cell tourists’ to India in the search for a miracle cure. This episode can be viewed online until 27 August 2014.

Foundation grants take young investigators to Canada

(Left to right) Luke Diepeveen, Jean Tan, Nilay Thakar
and Julie-Ann Hulin in Vancouver

Five junior investigators have received a networking and educational boost, joining the Australian contingent in Vancouver, Canada, at the International Society for Stem Cell Research’s 12th Annual Meeting. Their attendance was made possible by a Foundation conference grant program for early-career researchers.
“I got to discuss my scientific and entrepreneurial ambitions with the best biotech entrepreneurs in the field,” said Nilay Thakard, from the University of Queensland.
Julie-Ann Hulin, a researcher at Flinders University in South Australia, also valued the networking opportunities.
“It was great to be able to socialise with other early-career researchers within that environment, as well as to ‘meet the experts’, ask questions, and receive advice on career opportunities and forging an independent career.”
Gautam Wali, from the Eskitis Institute, Griffith University, was particularly excited to hear updates on recent advances in applications of stem cell research.
“Talks on modelling untreatable neurological, psychiatric and cardiac diseases as well as stem cell based therapies for Parkinson’s and diabetes were a proof of the research shifting from ‘bench to bedside’,” said Gautam.
Luke Aris Diepeveen, from the University of Western Australia, and Jean Tan, from Monash Institute of Medical Research, also attended the annual meeting through this Foundation initiative, which is coordinated by the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research.
The ISSCR Annual Meeting provides an opportunity for scientists, clinicians, educators and industry professionals to share new data, learn from peers, and discover global advances within the stem cell field.

Prizes awarded to accelerate emerging research leaders

Rising research stars recognised at Metcalf Prize ceremony
At the Metcalf Prize ceremony (left to right): Chris Juttner,
Don Metcalf, Kaylene Young, Gustav Nossal, Jose Polo
and Graeme Blackman

The Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research have been formally awarded to Dr Kaylene Young of the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania and Dr Jose Polo of Monash University in a special ceremony. The two $50,000 prizes will help accelerate their important research.
Jose’s work is unveiling the development of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells stem cells generated from skin, liver, blood or any other adult body cells. It is an important step along a path that could lead to treating degenerative diseases and understanding some cancers. This fundamental research will also benefit the many researchers working with iPS cells.
Kaylene’s research focuses on neural stem cells and progenitor cells and their role in conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. She has been both surprised and delighted by the response to the prize announcement.
“I’ve actually had people with nervous system conditions contact me to congratulate me and to encourage me to work harder,” says Kaylene.
The Metcalf Prizes are named in honour of pioneering researcher Professor Donald Metcalf, AC, who also attended the ceremony and whose discoveries of the critical molecules that tell stem cells to multiply and mature revolutionised cancer treatment. The prizes were presented by world-renowned immunologist Sir Gustav Nossal.
“We’ve created the Metcalf Prizes to encourage early-career stem cell research pioneers,” says Foundation Chairman Dr Graeme Blackman.
“We’re thrilled with both our inaugural winners and quality of the applications we received. We look forward to announcing the 2015 prizes next year.”
Read more about the Metcalf Prize winners

Stem cell news from around the world

Between newsletters, we share stem cell news on social media:
Here are a few of the stories we’ve shared recently.
  • Science Codex : Beware of claims about cosmetic stem cells procedures, says review in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
  • Sydney Morning Herald : Stem cell treatment warnings after Australian woman dies in Russia
  • Laboratory Talk : Scientists turn stem cells into blood
  • USC News : Stem cell scientists lay a ‘mouse TRAP’ for disease
  • New Scientist : Stem cell treatment causes nasal growth in woman's back
  • Ars Technica : 3D printing used to control stem cell differentiation
  • Australian Science Media Centre : EXPERT REACTION: Nature retracts papers claiming to make stem cells with acid
  • Huffington Post : Selling stem cells honestly
  • LA Times : Nature STAP stem cell studies retracted after more errors found
  • CIRM Blog : When hope runs up against reality: balancing patient optimism with medical evidence
  • CIRM Blog : ISSCR 2014: Talking Twitter and stem cells
  • Stem Cell Assays : Cells Weekly wrap-up of blog posts providing ISSCR 2014 annual meeting coverage
  • Medical Journal of Australia : Comment: Stem cell loopholes

About the Foundation

The NSCFA is an ATO-registered tax-deductible health promotion charity dedicated to promoting the study and responsible use of stem cells to reduce the burden of disease.
The Foundation’s activities include:
  • supporting research that pursues cures for as-yet-untreatable diseases
  • building a community of people with a shared interest in stem cell science
  • providing the Australian public with objective, reliable information on both the potential and risks of stem cell medicine.
We are working to build a community of people with a stake in stem cell science and to promote collaboration between scientists locally and internationally.
Please feel free to contact the Foundation’s CEO David Zerman on (03) 9524 3166 or email him at


We aim to:

  • Promote the study and use of stem cells

  • Prevent or control diseases or illness

  • Enhance public education about stem cells