June 2017

Donations in action; and how you can help stem cell research this EOFY

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

In May, we funded 30 young researchers—investigating fields from developing mini-organs to making cancer treatment more effective—to attend the annual stem cell scientific meeting.

Our Esteemed and Young Investigator program is an example of how the Foundation is using donated funds to help young stem cell researchers attend conferences, make connections, and present their work to their colleagues. In this bulletin you’ll meet the winners of this year’s poster and oral presentation awards.

We’ve also included more information on how we’ve invested in research and public education over the past year.

The funds generously donated by our supporters are making a difference. We invite you to contribute to our end of financial year campaign, and to tell your friends and colleagues about it. Read on for details. Any support you can provide will be much appreciated.

Also in this edition:

We meet Indian-Australian psychology student Ridhima Tandon, whose mycause campaign has raised funds for the Foundation and Domestic Violence Victoria. More below.

And our regular round-up of stem cell news highlights the enormous potential of regenerative medicine, such as repairing knee cartilage with a 3D-printing pen, growing corneal cells on film to restore eyesight, and a new way to produce blood cells. Risks and concerns around new therapies, both in Australia and overseas, also highlight the need for caution and public education.

Next week:

The 2017 Metcalf Prize program will open in early July – we’ll email you the details early next week, and ask you to encourage your rising stars of stem cell research to enter.

Finally, I’m delighted to see stem cell scientists Professors David Gardner and Melissa Little elected to the Australian Academy of Science, where they will play a role in promoting and championing excellence in Australian science. Read on for details.

Kind regards,

Dr Graeme L Blackman AO

Chairman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

In this bulletin:

  • Stem cells and gene therapy researchers come together in Sydney
  • Donate to support researchers and community education
  • Student’s close shave raises funds for domestic violence programs and stem cell research
  • Stem cell scientists elected as new Academy Fellows
  • Stem cell news from around the world

Stem cell and gene therapy researchers come together in Sydney

Wrap-up of the Esteemed and Young Investigator program at joint scientific meeting

 Thirty bright, young stem cell scientists—10 early-career researchers and 20 PhD students—shared their research on genes, stem cells, organoids and more at Australia’s premier stem cell scientific meeting held in Sydney in May.

The junior investigators—whose places were supported by the Foundation—brought youthful energy and expertise from a wide range of research interests including chemosensitisation to make leukaemia treatment more effective; using stem cells to understand neonatal brain damage; the role of certain genes in the development of the germ cells; and gene correction of mutations in kidney organoids grown from stem cells derived from other cells from patients.

The program’s awards winners for 2017 were:

  • Top oral presentation (PhD student) – Thomas Forbes, Murdoch Children's Research Institute
  • Top oral presentation (early-career researcher) – Benjamin Cao, CSIRO
  • Top poster presentation (PhD student) – Ana Rita Leitoguinho, Murdoch Children's Research Institute
  • Top poster presentation (early-career researcher) - Brett Kagan, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

Continuing last year’s collaborative approach, the conference was a special joint scientific meeting of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research (ASSCR) and the Australasian Gene and Cell Therapy Society.

The junior investigators joined their senior colleagues to hear presentations on a range of cutting-edge research areas including the clinical translation of cell and gene therapies, regenerative medicine and bioengineering, gene editing, disease modelling, and drug screening.

Donate to support researchers and community education

Support our end of financial year fundraising campaign

The Esteemed and Young Investigator Awards program is just one program the Foundation runs to support stem cell research and public education. To continue this work, we need funding.

We are deeply grateful for the kindness and generosity of those who have made donations. With this support, the Foundation has contributed to the development of Australia’s stem cell sector over the past year by:

  • Awarding two $50,000 Metcalf Prizes to support the research of emerging leaders James Chong and Tracy Heng. James is developing stem cell therapies for heart failure, to repair damage and provide alternatives to heart transplants. Tracy is bringing stem cell science and immunology together to make cancer treatment gentler and more effective for elderly patients with blood cancer and other blood disorders.
  • Advocating for better regulation of treatments using a patient’s own stem cells, through input into a Therapeutic Goods Administration review.
  • Providing conference and travel support for 30 PhD students and early-career researchers to attend and present at the ASSCR Conference in Sydney in May 2017, and sponsoring a special junior investigator award program.
  • Providing conference and travel support for 33 PhD students and early-career researchers to attend and present at the ASSCR Conference in Margaret River in December 2016, and sponsoring a special junior investigator award program.
  • Supporting the NSW Stem Cell Network Workshop on Stem Cells and Neurological Injuries in Sydney in October 2016.

The Foundation is the only ATO-registered Health Promotion Charity taking a one-stop national research and public information approach to encourage the best and the brightest researchers in Australia’s stem cell sector. We focus on delivering better health outcomes for all in our community through collaborative funding.

With the end of financial year upon us, we invite people to donate to support our ongoing work. Donations can be made securely online at our website or via our mycause campaign page.

Student’s close shave raises funds for domestic violence programs and stem cell research

Meet fundraiser Ridhima Tandon

 Melbourne psychology student Ridhima Tandon has traded her 73-centimetre-long hair for over $10,000 of funds, raised for Domestic Violence Victoria and the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.

Following the brutal murder of her close friend Nikita Chawla at the hands of her husband, Ridhima wanted to do something towards addressing domestic violence. She set up a mycause fundraising campaign, pledging to shave her long hair if she met her goal of $5,000.

“I did a bit of research and Domestic Violence Victoria was a good cause, because they really work with survivors and try to bring change at a government level,” says Ridhima.

“I also really wanted to raise money for something related to research. Again, I did a bit of research and the Stem Cell Foundation stood out.”

Ridhima says that, as a psychology student, she understands the importance of research and funding towards it.

“I’m doing my honours year this year, and research is hard work,” she explains. In the future, Ridhima wants to practice as a psychologist, but wants to see other people who love research funded to do it.

Ridhima’s long locks won’t go to waste. She has donated her hair to Variety’s Wigs for Kids program, which collects natural hair to make wigs for children with hair loss due to alopecia or cancer treatment.

Visit Ridhima’s mycause page.


Stem cell scientists elected as new Academy Fellows

Kidney stem cell leader Professor Melissa Little and pioneering embryologist Professor David Gardner are among 21 top scientists who have been elected to Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science for their outstanding contributions to science.

Melissa and David’s research was honoured at the Science at the Shine Dome 2017 conference in Canberra in May. There they presented an overview of their science to the audience, along with the other new Fellows.

Growing a kidney in the lab: Melissa Little

Melissa is well-known for her organoid research, successfully growing ‘mini-kidneys’ from stem cells. As well as growing the various types of cell needed from stem cells, her team’s method also prompts the cells to self-organise into a functioning complex mini-organ.

Melissa heads the Kidney Research Laboratory at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, is program leader for Stem Cells Australia, and the President of the ASSCR.

Watch Melissa’s New Fellow profile video and Shine Dome presentation.

Making in vitro an ideal environment: David Gardner

When women undergo IVF treatment, they may have their blastocysts—the cell groupings formed from a fertilised egg that subsequently form the embryo—scored on the Gardner blastocyst quality grading scale. David Gardner is the embryologist who developed the grading system, as well as culture mediums that blastocysts can develop in in vitro ahead of selection and transfer to the womb.

David’s research focuses on the development of the fertilised egg into a viable embryo, including the interaction of the developing embryo with its culture environment. His research has had great success in improving blastocyst viability. By optimising culture conditions to support human embryo growth, his work underpinned the isolation of the first human embryonic stem cells by the Thomson laboratory in USA in 1998.

Watch David’s New Fellow profile video and Shine Dome presentation.

The Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science is made up of about 500 Australian scientists. Scientists judged by their peers to have made an exceptional contribution to knowledge in their field may be elected to Fellowship of the Academy. As Fellows, Melissa and David provide leadership and positive role models for Australia’s science sector and future scientists.

Academy Fellows can also inform the direction of their disciplines through participation in discipline-specific National Committees for Science, which provide a forum to discuss the issues facing their specialty.


Stem cell news from around the world

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

Here are a few stories we’ve shared recently.

Pursuit (University of Melbourne): A trade in desperation: the rise of stem cell tourism

Medical News Today: Heart failure: Stem cell therapy may worsen heart damage. Circulation paper

Scope (Stanford Medicine): How to encourage muscle stem cells to replace missing muscle? A familiar home, a few friends and some healthy exercise

Cosmos Magazine: Watch cell repair and regeneration in action

Australia Unlimited: New cell regeneration technology helps restore eyesight

BioEdge: Controversial embryonic stem cell trials to launch in China

Cosmos Magazine: Patients’ stem cells point to potential treatments for motor neuron disease

The Adelaide Advertiser: Adelaide University appoints former undergraduate and lecturer Peter Rathjen as vice-chancellor (subscriber only)

The Conversation (UK): Stem cells show promise – but they also have a darker side

Herald Sun: Melbourne surgeons use 3D printer pen filled with stem cells to draw knee cartilage (subscriber only)

The Guardian: Can you manufacture blood cells?

The Australian: Stem cell breakthroughs clear the way for blood on tap (subscriber only)


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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We're keen to build a community of people with a stake in stem cell science to educate the community and support patients, clinicians and researchers. Feel free to pass this newsletter on to anyone who might be interested.

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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