December 2016

Nasal cells and grey matter lead to major honours; US $1.5 million research awards; stem cells for Christmas?

Welcome to the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s bulletin on stem cell medicine and research in Australia.
Leading stem cell scientists Alan Mackay-Sim and Perry Bartlett have been recognised in Queensland’s Australian of the Year Awards, finishing off 2016 on a high note.
Perry’s team recently commenced recruiting for a clinical trial exploring the benefits of exercise for brain function in ageing people. Read on for more about Alan and Perry’s awards and research.
This year’s big stories…
2016 saw more stories illustrating the potential and pitfalls of stem cell therapies.
A 7.30 investigation highlighted dubious marketing practices, and in New South Wales we heard of a coronial inquest into the death of a 75-year-old woman following a dubious stem cell treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. These and other cases have renewed calls for changes to the way stem cell treatments are regulated in Australia to better protect vulnerable patients.
We approach the end of the year with questions being raised about what a Trump presidency will mean for stem cell science in the United States and, as a consequence, the rest of the world.
The good news from 2016 is that Australian stem cell research is continuing to make strides, with advances in growing mini-organs in the lab, the world’s first injection of stem cells into the brain of a man as part of a trial treatment for Parkinson's disease in Melbourne, and stem cell researchers scooping three categories at the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.
And we were delighted to see Metcalf Prize winner James Chong’s heart research make prime time news in Sydney.
In news for researchers…
The 2017 Metcalf Prizes program will follow a different timeline to previous years. And the New York Stem Cell Foundation is also running a funding award program for early career researchers. Read on for details of both prize programs.
There have also been changes at the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research, and Stem Cells Australia Program Leader Martin Pera is heading to America. More on this below.
The end of this bulletin includes our regular roundup of links to stories we’ve recently shared via social media, including an interesting look at how the media covered a sports celebrity’s stem cell treatment and coverage of local Melbourne research that aims to use stem cells to cure blindness.
Over the Christmas break, we will share some of the year’s top stories of Australian and international stem cell science and debates on Twitter using the hashtag #StemCellsIn2016.
Finally, to mark the festive season, we have included a stem cell-themed gift guide, with an emphasis on summer reading.
On behalf of the Foundation, I wish you a safe and happy New Year.
Kind regards,
Dr Graeme L Blackman OAM
Chairman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

In this bulletin:

Nasal and neural stem cell pioneers among Queensland’s honour roll

A nose for understanding brain diseases and treating spinal cord injuries—Alan Mackay-Sim is Queensland’s Australian of the Year

Discovering brain stem cells and waking them up with exercise—Perry Bartlett is Queensland’s Senior Australian of the Year

Two top stem cell scientists have been announced as Queensland’s overall Australian and Senior Australian of the Year, and will proceed to the national Australian of the Year Awards, to be announced in Canberra on the eve of Australia Day 2017. 

Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim is interested in the regenerative power of adult olfactory stem cells that reside in the lining of the nose. These multipotent stem cells can give rise to many cell types, including nerve cells, and are far more accessible than the stem cells that reside in, say, the brain or spinal cord. He has been awarded Queensland’s Australian of the Year.
Alan led the world’s first clinical trial using olfactory stem cells in spinal cord injury, with the aim of testing the safety of the procedure. This work led to the world’s first successful restoration of mobility in a quadriplegic man in 2014.
Alan and his colleagues also use stem cells from patients to study and understand brain diseases and disorders. Their ‘Neuro Bank’ collection of olfactory stem cells from over 200 neurology patients and healthy controls allows the team to investigate conditions such as schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, and hereditary spastic paraplegia.
Alan is the Director of the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research at Griffith University. Read more about his work at the Australian of the Year and Griffith University.

First he overturned the dogma that the human brain can’t change and regenerate. Now neuroscientist Professor Perry Bartlett is putting people on treadmills to reverse dementia. He has been awarded Queensland’s Senior Australian of the Year.
Perry and his team at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) are currently looking for participants to take part in a study that will help identify the ideal dose of exercise to help older adults maintain their memory and cognitive function, and potentially reverse decline.
Perry is exploring how exercise wakes up the resident neural stem cells in the ageing brain. His new research builds on his expertise in these stem cells and his understanding of how learning, memory, mood and many other brain functions are, in part, regulated by the production of new neurons.
This research has implications for the prevention and treatment of dementia, a condition that affects more than 300,000 Australians, with many more cases expected as our population ages. It’s a devastating condition and the direct cost to the community is more than $5 billion per year.
Originally a dentist, Perry trained in transplantation immunology and became interested in interactions between the brain and the immune system. 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. This work fundamentally changed our understanding of the brain.
Last year, Perry was awarded the prestigious CSL Florey Medal for his contribution to Australian biomedical science.
Find out more about Perry’s work at the Australian of the Year website, and his new study at the QBI website.

Gift guide: Stem cells for Christmas?

 With the festive season upon us, here are a few gift ideas on a theme of stem cell science.
Book: Stem Cells: An insider’s Guide
Written by respected American cell biologist Paul Knoepfler, this 2013 book aims to give readers “the information needed to distinguish between the ubiquitous hype and legitimate hope found throughout the stem cell world”. It draws on his knowledge and experiences as both a stem cell scientist and a cancer survivor.
Paul is a researcher at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, and also has a degree in English Literature. He is well-known in North America for his communication and advocacy efforts, through the Knoepfler lab stem cell blog and as a regular media commentator on stem cell science.
In interviews, Paul has said that he wanted to write a book about stem cell science and treatments “that scientists will enjoy and but also a wider audience can comfortably read and understand”.
Read more about the book at the publisher World Scientific website.

Book: Stem Cells: Controversy at the Frontiers of Science
Award winning author Elizabeth Finkel is a one-time biochemist who took up science journalism and is now editor-in-chief of Cosmos Magazine.
Her landmark 2005 book Stem Cells: Controversy at the Frontiers of Science provides a clear explanation of what stem cells are and insight into where and why there are ethical debates about the use of stem cells.
The book also details and celebrates Australia’s pioneering role in the field of stem cell science, telling the surprising story of its roots in sheep fertility research.
Read more at the publisher Harper Collins website.
Magazine subscription: Cosmos
Cosmos is an Australian award-winning, independent literary science magazine, published in a bi-monthly print edition and an online daily news feed. Cosmos often includes stem cell science stories.
Visit the website for gift subscription details.

Toy: soft toy stem cell
The Giant Microbes collection of plush toys takes microbes, bacteria, viruses and cells, magnifies them and makes them look cute—all in the name of education. The range includes a soft toy stem cell.
Support the Foundation through a gift donation
Charitable donations make a great alternative gift idea for the person who has everything.
Donations to the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia are tax deductible and will help us continue our work in public education and supporting stem cell scientists, such as this year’s Metcalf Prize winners cardiologist James Chong and immunologist Tracy Heng.
You can now make donations via the Foundation’s Facebook page at
Maybe NOT… stem cell beauty treatments
Beauty products and treatments often promise the latest science harnessed for the purpose of younger looking skin. But how rigorous is the science? And how credible are the marketing claims?
A 2014 review of the state of the science for cosmetic stem cell therapy summarised that “advertising claims for cosmetic procedures using stem cells are running far ahead of the scientific evidence for safety and effectiveness”.
Like surgical procedures, the marketing claims of stem cell creams and lotions can also be taken with a grain of salt. Live stem cells can’t survive in a cream on the department store shelf. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has taken action against several manufacturers of stem cell cosmetics over misleading and unsupported medical claims.
A recent CHOICE review also questioned how well extracts from stem cells, or ingredients intended to stimulate your own stem cells, survive over time and whether or not they can penetrate the skin.

Stem cell research movers and shakers

Changes at Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research and Stem Cells Australia

Welcome to Melissa Little as incoming President of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research (ASSCR). Melissa heads the Kidney Research Laboratory at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and is a leader in stem cell and organoid research.
The Foundation regularly works with the ASSCR to bring students and early career researchers to conferences and scientific meetings, and we gratefully acknowledge the enthusiasm and work of outgoing President Michael O’Connor.
December’s annual ASSCR scientific meeting also saw Ed Stanley—who studies heart, blood and insulin-producing cells—voted in as the Society’s next Vice President.
We also wish stem cell pioneer Martin Pera all the best as he moves to the United States to take up a post at the Jackson Laboratory. Martin has made a significant contribution to the Australian sector through his research, his leadership of Stem Cells Australia, and his advocacy for better regulation and evidence-based health care.

Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Science—update

New timeframe for 2017

Our Metcalf Prizes—awarding $50,000 each to two exceptional mid-career stem cell researchers—will continue as part of our ongoing investment in Australian stem cell science.
In 2017, applications will open in July and the recipients will be announced in November—later than in previous years. We’ve changed the timing to avoid key grant application writing periods in response to feedback we’ve had from past applicants and jurors.
We will extend the eligibility window by a few months so that no potential applicants are rendered ineligible by the change in timing.
Meet the Metcalf Prize alumni.

Two US $1.5 million awards available to outstanding young researchers

New York Stem Cell Investigator Awards now open for 2017

The New York Stem Cell Foundation Robertson Stem Cell Investigator Awards are now open.
The Innovator Awards for Early Career Investigators in Translational Stem Cell Research support innovative scientists whose research has the potential to transform the field of stem cell research and to advance the use of stem cells for the treatment of human disease. For more information, to download the guidelines, and to apply, please visit
The Innovator Awards for Early Career Investigators in Neuroscience support the best young researchers working in fundamental areas of developmental, cellular, cognitive and behavioural, and translational neuroscience, broadly interpreted. Proposals need not be related to stem cells. For more information, to download the guidelines, and to apply, please visit
Both awards provide US $1.5 million (payable over five years) to outstanding young researchers from accredited non-profit research and academic institutions throughout the world (subject to eligibility).
Applications close 22 February 2017. More information at

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.
ABC Radio National PM: Stroke survivor study aims to deter stem cell tourism
New York Magazine: How the media botched the Gordie Howe stem cell story
The Globe and Mail: Funding surges in Canada as Trump win throws US stem cell research in doubt
Harvard Medical School: Rainbow hues clarify cell lineages, could illuminate cancer, blood disorders
Pursuit: Growing organs outside the body
Brisbane Times: Scientist Alan Mackay-Sim named Queensland's Australian of the Year
University of Kentucky: Researchers uncover intercellular message behind exercise-induced muscle growth
5 Eyewitness News: Desperately ill patients turn to unproven stem cell treatments
Eureka Alert/RIKEN: Schizophrenic stem cells do not differentiate properly into neurons
ABC News: Gene editing used to correct sickle cell disease, human trials planned
Herald Sun: Melbourne researchers aim to use stem cells to reverse blindness [subscriber only]
Daily Telegraph: A Liverpool based doctor under investigation after surgery death

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