February 2015

Prizes for stem cell research open; junior investigators shine at Lorne conference; treatment regulations under review

Welcome to the National Stem Cell Foundation’s bulletin on stem cell medicine and research in Australia.
I’m pleased to announce that the 2015 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research are now open. We're inviting mid-career stem cell scientists to apply for the two $50,000 prizes.
Last year’s winners Kaylene Young and Jose Polo were chosen from a strong field of candidates, highlighting the quality of stem cell research in our country. We encourage people who applied last year to do so again. Read on for more details.
We’re also supporting young scientists starting out in their research careers through a junior investigator conference grant program, so that they can hear from leading researchers and build networks. Four young researchers won awards at the recent ‘Narrowing the gap’ scientific meeting in Lorne, Victoria. Read on for more details.
Stem cell tourism and unproven treatments continue to be in the news. This bulletin includes a brief update of the Australian government regulator’s response to this emerging issue.
Finally, I'd like to extend my congratulations to the biomedical scientists and leaders recognised in this year's Australia Day honours. They remind us of the importance of biomedical research to Australia’s future.

Kind regards,
Dr Graeme L Blackman OAM
Chairman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia (NSCFA)

In this bulletin:

Two $50,000 prizes for up-and-coming leaders in stem cell research

Applications are now open for the 2015 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research.

2014 Metcalf Prize winners Jose Polo and Kaylene Young. Photo: Mark Coulson/NSCFA

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, five to 10 years past their PhD or MD, 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 Dr Kaylene Young of the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania and Dr Jose Polo of Monash University, in recognition of their leadership in stem cell research.
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 are now open, and close Monday 16 March 2015. We strongly 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

2014 prize winners update

Kaylene Young is working to find ways to persuade 'lazy' stem cells in our brain to repair brain injuries and even treat diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. The prize has allowed her to fund initiatives outside the scope of traditional research funding avenues, for example, the professional development of her research team.
“As a new group leader, the Metcalf Prize has given me a lot of momentum. I feel like this opportunity has really allowed me to move forward—to develop my team, expand my research network, and explore new research ideas in a way that wouldn’t normally be possible in a year. I would really urge others to apply in 2015.”
Jose Polo is unveiling the details of how stem cells can be produced from adult cells through a process of identity theft and reprogramming. He has used the prize to help build both international collaborative projects and bring a new student member to his own research team at Monash University.
“The Metcalf award has allowed me to embark into different exciting projects that otherwise I could not have done. I am really proud of the fact that a talented student now has a future in stem cell science and I really appreciate the help of the Foundation with this.”

Leading and learning at Lorne

MIMR Ritchie Centre researchers at Lorne: Dr Rebecca Lim (centre) with Foundation grant recipients (L to R) Marcus Zavou, Dr Dandan Zhu, Jean Tan and Yan Zhi Shawn Tan. Photo: Anna Michalska

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

64 bright young stem cell scientists—19 early-career researchers and 45 PhD students—attended Australia’s premier stem cell scientific meeting held in Lorne, Victoria late last year.
Junior investigators brought youthful energy and expertise from a wide range of research interests, including the mechanisms of haemopoietic reconstitution following bone marrow transplantation, neural crest stem cell research, the regulation of muscle stem cells, and intestinal stem cells and colorectal cancer development. Their attendance was made possible by a Foundation conference grant program for early career researchers.
“This was our second annual meeting in which the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia has worked with us to support and involve the next generation of stem cell scientists, so we had valuable momentum to build on,” says Michael O’Connor, President of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research (ASSCR).
“The involvement of such a large number of enthusiastic young scientists made for a vibrant conference atmosphere that was noticed by all, particularly our international speakers. With the NSCFA’s support we were able to hold a dedicated session to showcase the research of young investigators, and present awards to the top oral and poster presentations. This recognition is vitally important for young scientists starting out in their careers, and also helps to highlight the culture of research excellence for which the Australian stem cell field is renowned.”
The junior investigator award winners were:

  • Top oral presentation (PhD student) – Thao Nguyen, University of South Australia
  • Top oral presentation (early career researcher) – Dr Lincon Stamp, University of Melbourne
  • Top poster presentation (PhD student) – Julie-Ann Hulin, Flinders University
  • Top poster presentation (early career researcher) – Dr Thierry Jarde, Monash University
The conference theme was ‘Narrowing the gap between stem cell science and cell therapy’, reflecting the decision to hold a special joint meeting of the ASSCR, Stem Cells Australia and the International Society for Cellular Therapy (Australia and New Zealand region).
The junior investigators joined their senior colleagues to hear about the latest advances in cell reprogramming, emerging stem cell technologies, transplantation and immunotherapy research, tissue engineering and regulatory issues. 

Changes at the Foundation

Caroline Gargett and Karen Tiedemann join the Foundation board; farewell to Chris Juttner and David Zerman

The New Year brings some changes to the Foundation’s board of directors. We are thrilled to welcome two new board members Caroline Gargett and Karin Tiedemann.

Associate Professor Caroline Gargett is currently Deputy Director (Women’s Health) at the Ritchie Centre and is also a National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Senior Research Fellow.
Caroline joins us having recently completed a term as president of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research, where she showed her passion for supporting the stem cell research sector—particularly the professional development of early career researchers—working closely with the Foundation on conference grants programs for junior investigators.

Last year, Dr Karin Tiedemann OAM retired from a productive and pioneering medical career. Guests at her Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) retirement dinner heard how many years ago she was sent to the library to learn how to perform a bone marrow transplant and went on to develop and establish a bone marrow transplant program at the RCH.  

 Karin has served more than 30 years as a paediatric oncologist, clinical haematologist and head of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in the Children’s Cancer Centre/Haematology Oncology Department, at RCH in Melbourne. She was recognised with a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2002 for her services to medicine.

Read Caroline and Karin’s full biographies on the Foundation website.

We also say a fond farewell to director Chris Juttner and CEO David Zerman.
Dr Christopher Juttner steps down following three years as a Foundation Director, during which he also served as Chair of the Foundation's Scientific and Ethics Board sub-committee. Chris was instrumental in bringing American stem cell pioneers Irv Weissman and Ann Tsukamoto to Australia for a series of public talks and scientific meetings. He also chaired the judging panel of the inaugural Metcalf Prizes and will continue to assist with the 2015 prizes.
David Zerman finishes as CEO of the Foundation, having served two productive years raising both funds and the profile of the Foundation, supporting stem cell science and engaging with the community. We wish him well in his future endeavours.  

Update on regulatory issues

Therapeutic Goods Administration public consultation closes 3 March


The Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA)—the government body that regulates medicines, medical devices, blood products and other therapeutic products—is currently considering changes to the regulations that govern the use of stem cells, particularly ‘autologous’ stem cells (those obtained from a patient’s own body).
The public consultation follows recent increases in the number of Australian companies and clinics offering treatments using autologous stem cells. Concerns have been expressed to the TGA about the safety of the products, the lack of evidence of efficacy, the sums of money being charged for unproven treatments, the lack of mechanisms for reporting adverse effects of the products and the inappropriate advertising of the products.
“Public education has been part of our mission as people need reliable information to make informed choices about their health,” says Professor Graham Macdonald, Chair of the Foundation's Scientific and Ethics Sub-committee.
“However, government regulation has a vitally important role to play in assuring the safety and efficacy of stem cell products and procedures, as is done for prescription medicines.”
The TGA released a discussion paper for public consultation earlier in the year and has invited interested parties to respond with submissions by close of business Tuesday 3 March 2015. The Foundation will be making a submission to the consultation.
See the public consultation page on the TGA website for more information.
Stem Cells Australia has taken an active interest in these issues. The following article from Megan Munsie and Martin Pera provides a useful background to these regulatory issues:
The Conversation: ‘Cashing in on hope: stem cell tourism risks arrive in our own backyard’ 

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:

  • Herald Sun: Professor Don Metcalf, a giant of science we can all be proud of
  • Technology Review: The NFL has a problem with stem cell treatments
  • Bangkok Post: Raids target four stem cell beauty clinics
  • The Scientist: New stem cell state. Nature article
  • Eureka Alert: University of Toronto cell biologists discover on-off switch for key stem cell gene
  • The Telegraph: First stem-cell therapy approved for medical use in Europe
  • Nature: Rudimentary egg and sperm cells made from stem cells
  • Japan Times: ‘STAP cells’ claimed by Obokata were likely embryonic stem cells
  • Science Magazine: California stem cell agency to launch new speedy funding mechanism
  • The Australian: One step back, 10 steps forward for stem cells
  • ABC The World Today: Stem cell therapy regulation raises questions for patients and practitioners 
  • Herald Sun: Melbourne stem cell discovery could change brain chemo
  • Sydney Morning Herald: Optimism on stem cells, ahead of reality

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. 


We aim to:

  • Promote the study and use of stem cells

  • Prevent or control diseases or illness

  • Enhance public education about stem cells