May 2015

Teaching stem cells to forget; getting the message out; raised funds in action

Welcome to the National Stem Cell Foundation’s bulletin on stem cell medicine and research in Australia.
I’m thrilled to share the news that two rising stars have been announced as the winners of this year’s Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research.
Ryan Lister has discovered how adult stem cells retain a memory of what they once were. He believes he can make them forget their past lives, so that their history doesn’t limit their new potential.
Christine Wells has created an online encyclopedia of detailed scientific information on how our thousands of different genes shape us, which has led to the discovery of a new kind of stem cell. Read on to find out more about their research.
We’ve been able to award these two $50,000 prizes thanks to the generous support of our donors. We’re calling for more donations now to ensure we can offer future prizes and conduct other initiatives to support stem cell research and community education.
With the increasingly widespread marketing of risky and unproven stem cell treatments, regulation and community education have never been more important.
With this in mind, we’re connecting with the community—from projection art in public spaces, to guides for patients wanting credible information—and contributing to the Australian Government’s review of regulations for stem cell treatments. Read on for details.
Finally, I’m delighted to introduce Julia Mason, our new Executive Officer. Julia will manage the ongoing activities of the Foundation, drive fundraising efforts and provide strategic advice to the Board.
It is vitally important we support both the best of stem cell science and the community’s understanding of it. This is the Foundation’s mission. We encourage you to make a donation to the Foundation, and express our heartfelt gratitude to those who have supported us in the past.

Kind regards,

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

In this bulletin:

Teaching stem cells to forget and a stem cell encyclopedia

National stem cell prizes awarded to Perth and Brisbane researchers 

Metcalf Prize-winning researchers Christine Wells and Ryan Lister (Photo credit: AIBN at UQ and Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research)Professor Ryan Lister of the University of Western Australia and Associate Professor Christine Wells of the University of Queensland have both received $50,000 Metcalf Prizes from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia in recognition of their leadership in stem cell research.
Ryan Lister has discovered how adult stem cells retain a memory of what they once were. He believes he can make them forget their past lives, as for example skin cells, so their history doesn’t limit their new potential to become brain, heart, liver, blood and other cells.
In 2009, Ryan constructed the first complete maps of the complex human epigenome—millions of small chemical signposts added to our DNA that can turn genes ‘on’ and ‘off’. Over the life of a cell this packaging accumulates chemical changes or ‘memories’ of the cell’s role.
Ryan then turned his attention to studying adult stem cells or ‘induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells’ made from, for example, adult skin cells. While iPS cells appear to have reverted back to embryonic childhood, Ryan found they carry some adult baggage with them, retaining chemical memories.
“We want to create a tool that will allow us to understand, edit and correct any ‘memories’ that might result in cell behaviour that we want to avoid. Ultimately, this could lead to new stem cells derived from adult cells that can be safely used to treat patients, for example, new cardiac cells to heal damaged heart tissues.”
Ryan is a Professor and Sylvia and Charles Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellow / ARC Future Fellow at the University of Western Australia, where he leads research groups at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology.
An online encyclopedia created by Christine Wells has led to the discovery of a new kind of stem cell. And that’s just the beginning. Christine’s small Brisbane team has created a resource that the global stem cell research community is using to rapidly share knowledge and fast track stem cell discoveries.
“The stem cell field is growing so fast, it can be hard for researchers to keep abreast of the know-how and data that’s accumulating outside their particular special interest,” says Christine. “I’m working to address that need.”
Christine leads the Stemformatics initiative—an online encyclopedia of detailed scientific information on how our thousands of different genes shape us—putting vital data at the fingertips of stem cell researchers and their cross-disciplinary collaborators.
Christine and her encyclopedia helped a global team of 50 scientists from four countries, led by Canadian Andras Nagy, to access, share and integrate an enormous amount of data. This enabled the discovery of a whole new class of ‘pluripotent’ stem cell—cells that can give rise to any type of cell—and only the second type that can be grown in the lab from adult tissues.
Christine is a Group Leader at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland, Reader in Innate Genomics at the University of Glasgow, and Director of the Stemformatics program for Stem Cells Australia.
“We’re excited by the knowledge that supporting Christine Wells’ work will also support the research of the wider stem cell community and that Ryan Lister’s research will help towards a goal of providing safe and reliable stem cell therapies,” says Dr Graeme Blackman, OAM, the Chairman of the Foundation.
“Once again, we’ve been stunned by the quality of the applications. Christine and Ryan stood out from a remarkable field of young research leaders.”
The awards are named for the late Professor Donald Metcalf, AC, 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.
Read more about the Metcalf Prize winners.

Dollars making a difference

Support stem cell research and education through the Foundation’s end of financial year appeal

Supporting the research of the Metcalf Prize winners Ryan Lister and Christine Wells would not be possible without the financial assistance of our donors. We hope to raise funds to ensure that the Metcalf Prizes continue in perpetuity.
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:

  • publishing Stories of Australian Stem Cell Science, celebrating local stem cell research stories
  • bringing two of America’s top stem cell scientists, Professor Irv Weissman and Dr Ann Tsukamoto, to Australia for a series of scientific meetings and a public lecture tour
  • working with MS patient advocate Annie Leverington to tell her cautionary tale of stem cell tourism
  • supporting Australia’s bid to host the 2018 International Society for Stem Cell Research conference in Melbourne
  • bringing 64 PhD students and early career researchers to Lorne to participate in Australia’s premier stem cell scientific meeting
  • working with the inaugural Metcalf Prize winners Kaylene Young and Jose Polo to share their research with a wider audience
  • supporting the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research’s efforts to have their Stem Cell Stories photography exhibition projected onto landmark buildings in engaging projection art events.
The Foundation is an ATO-registered Health Promotion Charity. Donations enable us to provide targeted financial support to scientists researching the potential of stem cells to relieve pain and suffering, and help us to continue our public education activities. We focus on delivering better health outcomes for all in our community through collaborative funding.
With the end of financial year around the corner, we invite people to make a tax-deductible gift to support our ongoing work. Donations can be made securely online at our website or through My Cause.

New community education resources

Online information to help sort stem cell fact from fiction

Need reliable information about stem cell science to help you evaluate treatment options? Two new resources—one local and one international—are here to help.

Taking a ‘Closer Look at Stem Cells’ onlineThe International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) has launched their expanded ‘Closer Look at Stem Cells’ website. It includes information on basic stem cell biology, the process by which science becomes medicine, clinical trials and the use of stem cells in understanding specific health conditions, such as macular degeneration and multiple sclerosis, with more to be added in coming months.
A recent episode of The Stem Cells Podcast featured the new website, with guests Megan Munsie and Mario D’Cruz.
Visit the website at

The Australian Stem Cell Handbook – a guide for making informed choicesThe foundation has worked with Stem Cells Australia to produce a handbook that helps people understand the status of stem cell research and treatments in Australia and overseas.
Like all medical treatments, stem cell therapies involve risks. The Australian Stem Cell Handbook aims to help patients critically analyse stem cell treatments before considering taking part in them.
First published in 2009, the 2015 edition has been updated to reflect advances in stem cell science and clinical research, and the increasing number of unproven stem cell treatments being offered in Australia and overseas.
Download the handbook via the Foundation website

More regulation for stem cell treatments?

Therapeutic Goods Administration currently reviewing public consultation submissions

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.

The Foundation’s submission highlighted our growing concerns for patient safety, stemming from the current lack of clinical trial evidence that the treatments in question work and are safe, inadequate patient follow-up, and the lack of acceptable manufacturing standards for preparing cells for treatments.

Read our submission to the TGA review (61KB pdf file)

The TGA is currently considering the 80 submissions it has received. See the public consultation page on the TGA website for more information. 

Introducing our new Executive Officer

The Foundation welcomes Julia Mason 

Julia MasonJulia Mason has joined the Foundation as our new Executive Officer. Julia comes to the Foundation with a background in private sector and not-for-profit leadership in both Australia and Asia.
“Stem cell medicine is already transforming lives through bone marrow and cord blood transplants,” says Julia.
“I’m thrilled to be working with an organisation dedicated to helping meet the challenges of research and education, so that more people can benefit from stem cell science.”
Julia has held senior commerce and finance positions at Sensis and BP. She has deep business knowledge developed through a career in key business functions including finance, corporate strategy, corporate advisory, and marketing. She also has extensive board experience, including chairing the boards of the Victorian State Emergency Services and the mental health charity One in Five, and as a director of VicUrban. 

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:

  • Xinhua News: Australian scientists call unregulated stem cell treatments risky
  • Salk Institute: New stem cell may overcome hurdles for regenerative medicine
  • Stem Cells Australia: Australian researcher Trevor Kilpatrick receives funding from American National MS Society
  • Herald Sun: AFL clubs turning to radical stem cell therapy to fix cartilage and tendon injuries
  • Sydney Morning Herald: Unregulated stem cell therapy: TGA urged to crack down on autologous treatments
  • Stanford Medicine: Scientists find way to monitor progress of stem cells after transplantation into brain
  • Scicasts: Study finds dead feeder cells support stem cell growth (abstract)
  • Z News India: Private cord blood banks are fooling the public, say doctors
  • ABC News: Chinese experiment which 'edits' DNA of human embryos ignites ethical controversy
  • Medical Xpress: Stem cell scientists develop more effective way to create motor neurons, Nature Communications paper

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