December 2015

$50,000 prizes for stem cell research open; and waking up brain stem cells with exercise

This month we’re offering two $50,000 prizes for stem cell research, and reporting on the remarkable idea that exercise might regenerate neurons and reverse dementia.

Welcome to the National Stem Cell Foundation’s bulletin on stem cell medicine and research in Australia.

The 2016 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research are now open for applications. We’re inviting mid-career stem cell scientists to apply for the two $50,000 prizes, which are awarded to one male and one female.

Last year’s winners were Christine Wells, whose work has led to the discovery of a new kind of stem cell, and Ryan Lister, who believes he can get adult stem cells to forget their past. Applications are open now and close 21 March 2016. Read on for more details.

Last month the Foundation provided travel support for 60 young researchers to go to Australia’s peak annual stem cell scientific meeting. These researchers are working on everything from sporadic Alzheimer’s disease to skeletal development; from how stem cells respond to mechanical cues to skin regeneration and ageing. Read on for details.

The much-admired founding director of the Queensland Brain Institute Perry Bartlett was in the headlines in November. He has received two major awards in recognition of his pioneering neural stem cell research and his contribution to biomedical science: the $50,000 CSL Florey Medal and the Research Australia Lifetime Achievement Award.

Perry broke the dogma that the adult brain can’t change and regenerate, a discovery which transformed our understanding of the brain. Now his research team is tackling dementia. Read on for more about his dementia research and his CSL Florey Medal win.

On behalf of the Foundation, I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season. We look forward to supporting and celebrating more Australian stem cell science in the New Year.

Kind regards,

Dr Graeme L Blackman OAM

Chairman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

In this bulletin:

  • $50,000 prizes for stem cell research now open
  • Discovering brain stem cells and waking them up with exercise
  • Talking stem cells in the Hunter Valley
  • Stem cell news from around the world

$50,000 prizes for stem cell research now open

Applications are now open for the two $50,000 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research

2015 Metcalf Prize winners Christine Wells and Ryan Lister (Photo credit: AIBN at UQ and Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research)Two up-and-coming leaders in stem cell science will be awarded $50,000 each to boost their career to the next level.

The Metcalf Prizes are open to mid-career researchers who are five to 10 years past their PhD or MD (research-based) and working in stem cell research in Australia.

The winners will be chosen for their scientific excellence, proven leadership ability and the potential to have a continuing influence on stem cell research in Australia.

Last year’s winners were Christine Wells of the University of Queensland and Ryan Lister of the University of Western Australia.

Christine has created an online encyclopaedia of detailed scientific information on how our thousands of different genes shape us, which has led to the discovery of a new kind of stem cell.

Ryan has discovered how adult stem cells retain a memory of what they once were. He believes he can make them forget their past lives, so that their history doesn’t limit their new potential.

The Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research recognise and honour the exceptional contribution made to stem cell research by the late Professor Donald Metcalf, who died in December 2014. Over his 50-year career, Don helped transform cancer treatment and transplantation medicine, and paved the way for potential stem cell therapy in the treatment of many other conditions.

The Metcalf Prizes support the Foundation’s mission to promote the study and use of stem cells in the prevention or control of disease in human beings and to enhance stem cell public education.

Applications close Monday 21 March 2016. We encourage last year’s unsuccessful applicants to apply again this year if they are still eligible.

To apply online, and for a full list of criteria and conditions, head to the Foundation’s website:

If you have any questions about eligibility or the application process, please contact Ellie Michaelides at Science in Public, who are administering the awards for the Foundation:

Discovering brain stem cells and waking them up with exercise

Professor Perry Bartlett from the Queensland Brain Institute at UQ received the 2015 CSL Florey Medal for his discoveries that have transformed our understanding of the brain, and for his leadership of neuroscience in Australia.

CSL Chief Scientific Officer and R&D Director Dr Andrew Cuthbertson with CSL Florey Medal winner, Professor Perry Bartlett (Photo credit: Lorna Sim)Perry Bartlett is putting people with dementia on treadmills. He has already reversed dementia and recovered spatial memories in mice through exercise. During the next year he’ll find out if exercise will have the same impact on people with dementia. Then he’ll look at depression.

Underpinning these projects is the idea that the brain is constantly changing and that learning, memory, mood and many other brain functions are, in part, regulated by the production of new neurons. When Perry started exploring the brain in 1977, the mature brain was regarded as static and unchangeable. He challenged this dogma and his work has led to a transformation in our understanding of the brain.

In 1982 Perry predicted that there were stem cells in the brain. In 1992 he found them in mouse embryos then in adult mice. A decade later, he isolated them from the forebrain. His next big project was building up the Queensland Brain Institute from 10 people to 500 in little more than a decade. Subsequently, the Institute has unleashed a new generation of neuroscientists whose discoveries range from using ultrasound to treat Alzheimer’s disease, to finding stem cells associated with mood, spatial learning and more.

Today, Perry is focusing on taking his latest discovery from mice to the clinic. He and the research team he mentors are preparing to start human trials to determine if exercise really can slow down or reverse dementia in humans. Dementia affects more than 300,000 Australians and many more cases are expected as our population ages. It’s a devastating condition and the direct cost to the community is more than $5 billion a year. The impact on families is beyond measure.

Perry received the 2015 CSL Florey Medal for his revolutionary discoveries that have transformed our understanding of the brain and for his leadership of neuroscience in Australia.

Read the full profile or watch the video.

Talking stem cells in the Hunter Valley

Wrap-up of the junior investigator program at joint scientific meeting

ASSCR president Michael O’Connor (far right) with Foundation award winners (L to R) Christian Nefzger, Martin Engel and Sarah Hemming (fellow winners Jessica Frith and Lizhe Zhuang not pictured) (Photo credit: ASSCR)Sixty bright, young stem cell scientists—11 early-career researchers and 49 PhD students—attended Australia’s premier stem cell scientific meeting held in the Hunter Valley in November.

Junior investigators brought youthful energy and expertise from a wide range of research interests, including the differentiation of stem cells from patients with sporadic Alzheimer’s disease, the regulation of skeletal development in newborn mice, stem cell signalling in response to mechanical cues, and the influence of the microenvironment on skin tissue regeneration and skin ageing. Their attendance was made possible by a Foundation conference grant program for early career researchers.

“This was the third consecutive year in which funding from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia enabled the next generation of local stem cell scientists to participate in our annual conference,” says Dr Michael O’Connor, president of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research (ASSCR).

“The NSCFA travel awards provide an invaluable opportunity for young researchers to share knowledge with each other as well as national and international thought leaders in our field. Having such a large number of talented and energetic young scientists participate in our meeting makes for an invigorating and inquisitive atmosphere.

“The collegial bonds that result from their interactions will help drive the future collaborations needed to keep Australia at the forefront of global stem cell research.”

The junior investigator award winners were:

  • Top oral presentation (PhD student) – Lizhe Zhuang, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
  • Top oral presentation (early career researcher) – Jessica Frith, AIBN, University of Queensland, and Christian Nefgzer, Monash University
  • Top poster presentation (PhD student) – Sarah Hemming, University of Adelaide
  • Top poster presentation (early career researcher) Martin Engel, University of Wollongong

Continuing last year’s collaborative approach, the conference was a special joint scientific meeting of the ASSCR, Stem Cells Australia and the New South Wales Stem Cell Network.

The junior investigators joined their senior colleagues to hear presentations on a range of cutting-edge research areas including emerging stem cell technologies; commercialisation models and clinical translation; stem cell maintenance and differentiation; reprogramming cell fate; epigenetics; and bioengineering.

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.

SBS News: Regrowing human skulls with stem cells

Boston Business Journal: Harvard's Doug Melton awarded for work on stem cells treatment for diabetes

ABC The World Today: Stem cell creation: researchers discover way to speed-up process

Mental Floss: Patient stem cells might one day restore thyroid function

Nature Middle East: Continuous harvest of stem cells is now possible; Biomaterials paper

The Australian: Brain pioneer claims science medal

The Daily Beast: George W., Father of the Stem-Cell Revolution

Nature (editorial): Rethinking regeneration: empowerment of stem cells by inflammation

ABC Radio PM: Professor Perry Bartlett honoured with top biomedical prize

The Scientist: Blood Cell Development Reimagined

ABC RN Breakfast: Australian scientists investigate whether exercise can reverse dementia

About the Foundation

The National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia 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 Executive Officer Julia Mason via

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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