June 2013

50 grants for early-career researchers and students; therapeutic cloning in the news; and scientists meet patients in Melbourne

National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia June newsletter

The first half of 2013 has seen the Foundation’s formal launch and the commencement of our grant programs and outreach activities. 

We’re extending our support to the stem cell research community with 50 travel grants for early-career researchers to join Australia’s premier stem cell research meeting in Brisbane later this year. There are plenty of speaking places for junior investigators, awards for posters and presentations, and a special networking event to introduce them to leaders in stem cell research.

The Foundation is also committed to public education, helping people make informed choices about stem cell treatment options. We’re engaging with the media, and were called to comment on the recent US breakthrough in therapeutic cloning.

Last month we sponsored a forum to give people living with diabetes a chance to hear about potential therapies directly from the experts, and we’re working with Stem Cells Australia to produce a handbook for people considering stem cell treatments.

Finally, I am thrilled to welcome David Zerman as our new CEO. David comes to the Foundation with a background in fundraising and not-for-profit leadership. He has worked on campaigns which have raised and dispersed more than $202 million, benefiting health services, medical research and aged care. He will manage the ongoing activities of the Foundation, drive fundraising efforts and provide strategic advice to the Board. 

Our work would not be possible without the generous support of donors and sponsors.    All donations made to the Foundation are tax deductible. We encourage you to make a donation to the Foundation, and express our heartfelt gratitude to those who have supported us in the past. Donations can be made securely online.

Kind regards,

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

Building the next generation of stem cell researchers

Foundation announces conference grants for students and early career researchers



We’re giving the next generation of stem cell researchers a boost with 50 travel grants for PhD students and early-career researchers to join the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research annual conference.

The Foundation will cover travel and registration expenses for 30 PhD students and 20 early career researchers to meet colleagues and present their research at Australia’s premier stem cell research event in Brisbane in October.

“Our first researcher grant, awarded to Kathryn Davidson at the Centre for Eye Research Australia, was targeted and specific. For our second grant initiative, we want to benefit the stem cell sector broadly, supporting the development of a new generation of stem cell researchers,” says Foundation CEO David Zerman.

The ASSCR has also set aside speaking places for early-career researchers, created awards for the best posters and presentations by early-career researchers, and will host a special networking event to introduce them to leaders in stem cell science.

“In the long term, we hope the fact that successful applicants will have won a competitive grant, attended the conference and possibly won an award will be valuable additions to their CVs,” says David.

ASSCR President Caroline Gargett says the line-up of international and leading local speakers will be particularly relevant for young researchers. See the Foundation website for details.

“In a tight financial climate, there’s simply less money to send students to conferences, so this support from the Foundation is really valuable,” says Caroline. “We really want young researchers to hear these top scientists and be inspired by them.”

Visit the ASSCR event website for more information and to apply for the grants. 

Diabetes and stem cells forum sorts the hope from the hype

Foundation sponsors recent public information event at the Melbourne Brain Centre

Diabetes and stem cells forum
Foundation board member Dr Christopher Juttner opens the Forum
Could stem cells one day treat type 1 diabetes? What is actually involved? How close are we to it being a reality?

‘Diabetes and stem cells: hype, hope and progress', a public forum we sponsored at last month’s Bio21 Cluster Stem Cells Australia Scientific Symposium, brought scientists, clinicians and patients together to answer these questions and discuss the latest research and developing treatments.

 “They definitely chose great speakers and I got a lot out of it,” says Kate Laurie, a winemaker with type 1 diabetes who travelled from South Australia to Melbourne to be in the audience. Her diabetes is potentially life threatening, currently incurable and, unlike type 2 diabetes, can't be prevented through better diet and lifestyle choices.

“I wanted to hear directly from the people doing the research about where they’re at,” says Kate. “The forum was great because it was a neutral sharing of knowledge, not a presentation from people trying to sell you something.”

Professor Ed Stanley of Monash University and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute gave an introduction to stem cell science and Type 1 diabetes, or ‘juvenile diabetes’, describing the process by which a person’s immune system destroys their own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, making the body unable to manage glucose. 

International guest Professor Allan Robins of Viacyte USA spoke about the development of a device that can be implanted into people with type 1 diabetes. The device encloses and protects stem cell-derived pancreatic cells, allowing them to be involved in the regulation of blood sugar while protecting them from autoimmune attack.

Associate Professor Maria Craig from the Children’s Hospital at Westmead spoke about the Cord blood Reinfusion in Diabetes (CoRD) Pilot Study she is leading.  This study will see if cells found in cord blood can prevent the development of diabetes in children who have begun to show signs of autoimmunity.

“I came to the forum because I want treatments or a cure for my own condition,” says Kate. “The idea of prevention was totally new to me. I want this for my daughter.” 

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation committee member Mark Ross spoke about living with diabetes, telling the story of his mother’s regular phone calls with sensational media stories of treatments and cures, highlighting the need for good advice and avoiding the creation of false hope. 

Questions from the audience also reflected the increasingly frequent promises of ‘miracle cures’ on the internet. Event MC Megan Munsie of Stem Cells Australia said she gets these questions all the time – which is why she is working to publish a new patient information handbook, supported by the Foundation.

Thanks also to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for their support of the event.

A video of the forum is available on the Bio21 Cluster website.

Stem cells and grey matter: meet a scientist

Neuroscience in Queensland going from strength to strength

Perry BartlettThe Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) and its director Professor Perry Bartlett have been in the news, with headlines like ‘$9 million boost to Queensland research into dementia’ and ‘Clinical study blocks protein to treat spinal cord injury’. It’s an exciting time for a man who originally trained to be a dentist.

Perry stresses the importance of engagement outside the scientific community. “Our recent funding boost gives us great hope for our research into dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Australia has an aging population, so our research will be important for policy makers.”

Perry is no stranger to making news. His laboratory at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute co-discovered the presence of stem cells in the adult brain which had the capacity to produce new neurons. This was paradigm-changing research. Previously, it was thought that new neurons could not develop after birth.

“One of the things I’ve always liked about Australians is we’re very sceptical, cynical people – we don’t believe in things easily,” says Perry with a laugh. “That’s a very good attribute in science. Don’t ever believe anything until you’ve shown it to be true yourself!”

Perry moved to Queensland to establish QBI in 2003 and is currently leading research investigating how neurogenesis influences brain functions like learning and memory. 

“We know the brain is making new nerve cells all the time, particularly in the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus,” says Perry. “The process in the hippocampus is especially important because we have recently shown in mice that preventing this production leads to impairment in certain types of learning. We’re looking for ways to influence and regulate the number of neurons a brain makes, how well they survive and how they’re integrated into brain function.”

Perry often jokes that, for good mental health, people should go for a long run, then do a cryptic crossword. “We know that exercise can increase the production of new neurons; so can some hormones, like prolactin. We make a lot of new cells but most don’t survive. They only survive and integrate with stimulus associated with learning tasks; they need to be put to use.”

“What we’ve found is that in old animals the production of nerve cells slows down to about a quarter or less. But the good news is the stem cell population is still there. So our research is asking how we can activate and regulate them to produce more new cells,” says Perry.

“By stimulating this production of neurons in our ageing population, we have the opportunity to address one of the greatest health problems facing our community: ageing dementia. We are very excited because our recent experiments suggest we can reverse cognitive decline in mice - now for humans!”

Perry will be one of the speakers at October’s meeting of the ASSCR. 

“Collaboration is vitally important for Australian science so that we can be strong players in neuroscience and regenerative medicine into the future,” says Perry. “I’m looking forward to meeting and hearing the presentations of the Foundation’s grant recipients. Naturally, I’m hoping to see some bright young neuroscientists among them.”

Stem cell news from around the world

Therapeutic cloning announcement a major news story

Dr Christopher Juttner on ABC TV Lateline
A US research team’s successful use of a human skin cell to create a cloned embryo has been the major international stem cell news story of recent weeks. As part of our commitment to promoting stem cell science, the Foundation fielded many media enquiries on the story, linking reporters with stem cell experts for local commentary. 

We called on Dr Christopher Juttner, a physician and chair of the Foundation's Scientific and Ethics board sub-committee, to comment for the Foundation. He spoke with Ten News, ABC News 24, ABC Radio National and others.

Listen to Christopher Juttner on ABC News Radio  or watch him on ABC’s Lateline.

The announcement also put the ethics of stem cell research back in the spotlight.
An editorial in The Age commented that scientific progress has risks, but also terrific potential. It noted the complex ethical and policy challenges of therapeutic cloning and challenged leaders in politics, religion and science to “ensure the potential for relieving human suffering is not lost to scare-mongering.”

As Professor Peter Schofield wrote in The Age, there’s a lot of public and scientific interest in stem cells. This creates a need for strong relationships and credible information. This is a major part of the work of the Foundation: to communicate with the public and to help stem cell scientists share their research.

Other media coverage of the story: 

Sydney Morning Herald: ‘Shot in the arm for mission to take stem cells from embryos’

Sky News: ‘Embryonic stem cells made from skin’

Between newsletters, we share stem cell news on social media:

Here are a few of the stories we’ve shared recently.

CSIRO News: CSIRO develops test to improve stem cell safety

CSIRO News Blog: Are all stem cells safe? Absolutely not!

Science Daily: Could silk & cellulose provide scaffolding for stem cell cartilage repair? 

Health Canal: Alligator stem cell study gives clues to tooth regeneration

ABC Radio National: Warnings about overseas treatment for cerebral palsy

The Australian: Footballers being used 'as stem cell lab rats'; offered free treatments for promotional testimonials

Boston.com: Harvard stem cell researchers find protein that rejuvenates aging mouse hearts

Eureka Alert: 'OHSU research team successfully converts human skin cells into embryonic stem cells' - media release

The Conversation: Explainer: what are stem cells?

About the Foundation

The Foundation is new charity established as a legacy of the Australian Stem Cell Centre.

The Foundation is working to:
  • promote the study and ethical use of stem cells to reduce the burden of disease
  • enhance public education
We also hope 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 david@stemcellfoundation.net.au 

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We aim to:

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