July 2016

Stem cells healing broken hearts, and making cancer treatment less aggressive and more effective – Metcalf Prize winners announced

Welcome to the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s bulletin on stem cell medicine and research in Australia.
 
I’m excited share the news that two brilliant young researchers have been announced as the winners of this year’s Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research.
 
Yesterday, Dr James Chong of the Westmead Institute for Medical Research and the University of Sydney and Dr Tracy Heng of Monash University were awarded their Prizes, presented to them by Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty AC at a special ceremony in Melbourne.
 
James Chong has two starters in the race to develop stem cell therapies for heart failure, to repair damage and provide alternatives to heart transplants.
 
Tracy Heng wants to make cancer treatment gentler and more effective for elderly patients with blood cancer and other blood disorders.
 
We’ve been able to award these two $50,000 prizes thanks to the generous support of our donors.
 
Read on to find out more about their research.
 
While James and Tracy are working hard to provide treatment options supported by sound science, we continue to hear stories of dubious practices here and overseas.
 
In New South Wales, a coronial inquiry has investigated the death of a Sydney women following a stem cell procedure intended to treat her advanced dementia. And a major study (Cell Stem Cell abstractco-author post about the study) has found that stem cell therapy tourism and marketing is flourishing in the United States while regulation struggles to keep up.
 
We have included these stories in our regular round-up of stem cell news.

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



In this bulletin:

Stem cells healing broken hearts, and making cancer treatment less aggressive and more effective

National stem cell prizes awarded to Melbourne and Sydney researchers

L-R: Executive Officer of the Foundation Julia Mason, Professor Peter Doherty, Dr Tracy Heng, Chairman of the Foundation Dr Graeme Blackman, and Dr James Chong.
Dr James Chong has two starters in the race to develop stem cell therapies for damaged hearts. James is a cardiologist and researcher at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Sydney.
 
Dr Tracy Heng of Monash University in Melbourne wants to make cancer treatment gentler and more effective for elderly patients with blood cancers and other blood disorders.
 
“James Chong and Tracy Heng have both received $50,000 Metcalf Prizes from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia in recognition of their leadership in stem cell research, translating and applying stem cell science to medical practice,” says Dr Graeme Blackman OAM, Chairman of the Foundation.
 
James Chong has two starters in the race to develop stem cell therapies for heart failure, to repair damage and provide alternatives to heart transplants. His research is exploring both the potential for transplanted stem cells to regenerate new heart tissue and how to repair a patient’s heart by rejuvenating their own heart stem cells.
 
“In Australia, 54,000 people suffer a heart attack and 20,000 die from chronic heart failure each year,” says James.
 
Heart attacks and chronic heart failure damage and kill heart muscle. For the people who don’t die, their hearts are permanently weakened, some to the extent of needing a heart transplant to survive.
 
“I want to develop stem cell treatments that can save the lives of the thousands of people who miss out on heart transplants.”
 
James has already shown that human stem cells can produce new beating heart muscle cells, repairing heart damage in an animal trial. But the test group developed abnormal heart rhythms.
 
He believes modifying the stem cells using gene therapy can overcome the heart rhythm irregularities and wants to test the approach in a further animal trial to pave the way for human trials.
 
James has also discovered a population of stem cells that naturally reside in the heart, but decline with ageing and disease. He is developing ways to reawaken these stem cells to repair the damaged heart.
 
James will use his Metcalf Prize to help advance his work on both fronts towards human trials.
 
See 9 News Sydney’s coverage of James’ win

Metcalf Prize-winning researchers James Chong and Tracy Heng (Photo credits: The Westmead Institute and Monash University)
Tracy Heng
 wants to make cancer treatment gentler and more effective for elderly patients with blood cancer and other blood disorders.
 
“Bone marrow transplants have transformed survival rates for blood cancers. They replace a diseased blood system with healthy blood-forming cells, but first, doctors have to wipe out a patient’s immune system, which takes a big toll on elderly patients. My goal is to change that,” says Tracy.
 
Tracy’s research aims to make the treatment less harsh by lowering the dose of chemotherapy or radiotherapy used to reset a patient’s immune system before a blood stem cell transplant.
 
To make this possible, she’s working to stop donor blood stem cells from being rejected by a patient’s body following a bone marrow transplant, by mixing them with other stem cells that can suppress the immune system.
 
The Prizes are named for the late Professor Donald Metcalf, AC, who transformed cancer treatment and transplantation medicine, and paved the way for stem cell therapy in the treatment of many other conditions.
 
“Don Metcalf’s research on blood cell formation led directly to the development of bone marrow transplantation,” says Dr Graeme Blackman OAM, Chairman of the Foundation.
 
“Tracy’s work builds on these foundations to make a huge difference to the lives of elderly patients with blood diseases.”
 
Read more about the Metcalf Prize winners.


NSCFA travel grants for the ASSCR Margaret River conference

 Conference grants available for students and early career researchers
 
We’re giving the next generation of stem cell researchers a boost with travel grants for PhD students and early career researchers to join the 9th annual Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research scientific meeting at Margaret River, WA.
 
The Foundation will provide funding support towards travel expenses for selected PhD students and early career researchers so they can meet colleagues and present their research at Australia’s premier stem cell research conference in December.
 
Applications close 12 August.

More information on the grants and how to apply
 
More about the ASSCR and the conference


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: Selling the stem cell promise
 
ABC Radio National: The life and death of Sheila Drysdale
 
Stanford Medicine News: Researchers coax human stem cells to rapidly generate bone, heart muscle
 
Science Daily: Breakthrough in scaling up life-changing stem cell production; Nature Communications paper
 
Korea Joongang Daily: Gov’t cautiously approves stem cell research
 
The Indian Express: From the lab: better biomaterials for medical implants
 
Australian Popular Science: The end of root canals?
 
Ars Technica: Stem cells from cattle, placentas, and fat are used in clinics across the US
 
Scicasts: Researchers develop new method to grow and transplant muscle stem cells
 
Toronto Star: U.S. overlooked in debate over ‘stem-cell tourism’
 
CBC Radio: Stem cell hype and risk
 
Diabetes News Journal: Manufactured stem cells might boost development of new diabetes therapies
 
WVXU: Quality control for stem cells
 
CBS News: Stem cell doc faces manslaughter charge over transplants
 
BBC News: 'Tuneable' gels to aid stem cell research
 
The New York Times: A cautionary tale of ‘stem cell tourism’
 
The Guardian: Frozen in time: fossil plant stem cells from 300 million years ago


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 jmason@stemcellfoundation.net.au.


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