May 2017

Gene therapy to 3D printing at national conference; new book on stem cell tourism

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

Stem cell tourism and experimental treatments remain controversial issues that are getting attention from media, regulators and a hopeful public. A Cosmos magazine story on the need for regulation and a Discover Magazine report on unethical treatments for autism in India are among the stories in our regular round-up of stem cell news from around the world.

A new book, Stem Cell Tourism and the Political Economy of Hope, has just been published, exploring how and why people make these choices. More below.

This month sees Australia’s stem cell researchers meet in Sydney for their annual conference. This year, they team up with colleagues from the overlapping gene and cell therapy field, and look ahead to Australia hosting the 2018 International Society for Stem Cell Research in a little over a year.

We’re again working with the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research to provide travel grants and awards for young researchers. In this newsletter, we also catch up with a 2014 international conference grant recipient Gautam Wali, to see how his career has developed. Read on for details.

Finally, congratulations to 2015 Metcalf Prize recipient Ryan Lister who has won an international scholarship worth $650,000 USD that will help fund his continuing research into how the genes in the cells of plants and people are turned on and off, shaping their development.

The 2017 Metcalf Prize program will be announced in the coming months. Applications will open in July and close in August. The winners will be announced in November.

Kind regards,

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

In this bulletin:

ASSCR annual scientific meeting: from gene therapy for haemophilia to 3D printing with stem cells

Stem cell, gene and cell therapy conference in Sydney, 24 to 26 May

  • Can 3D printing be used to create organs?—Dr Kimberly Homan, Wyss Institute, Harvard, USA
  • Advances in gene therapy to treat haemophilia B—Professor Amit Nathwani, Royal Free Hospital, University College London, UK
  • Developing effective therapies using organoids of pancreatic ductal cancer—Dr Christine Chio, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, USA.

 These and other visiting speakers and local Australian researchers are headed to Sydney this month for the joint Biennial Australasian Gene and Cell Therapy Society and Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research (ASSCR) Annual Scientific Meeting.

The members of both Societies share common interests in developing new stem cell, gene and cell therapies for the treatment of human disease, and successfully translating their research.

Held at the University of Technology Sydney’s Aerial Function Centre, the conference will explore topics including the clinical translation of cell and gene therapies, regenerative medicine and bioengineering, gene editing, disease modelling, and drug screening.

For more information and to register, visit:

The Foundation is again supporting the Esteemed and Young Investigator Awards program, sponsoring ASSCR member PhD students and early career researchers to attend, and awarding prizes for the best oral and poster presentations.

In its first year in 2013, the initiative brought more than 50 emerging stem cell researchers and “a wave of youthful energy” to Brisbane, in the words of then ASSCR President Caroline Gargett, who has since joined the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

The following year, the program supported five young researchers to attend the 12th annual ISSCR scientific meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

More than 230 grants have been awarded in the first four years of the program, designed to support the next generation of stem cell researchers early in their careers, kickstart their network building, and give them opportunities to present their work.

How conference grants help grow careers

From Brisbane to Vancouver to Sydney: Gautam Wali wants to use stem cells to keep people on their feet

Gautam Wali’s research focus is to use stem cell models to find treatments that stop neurodegenerative disorders in their tracks. Back in 2014, he was a Griffith University neuroscience PhD student, and was one of five young researchers awarded travel grants from the Foundation to attend the International Society for Stem Cell Research conference in Vancouver, Canada.

“The meeting in Vancouver was my first international stem cell conference. As a young PhD graduate it was a great opportunity to understand and get a realistic idea of the potential that stem cell research had to offer,” says Gautam.

“It was a rare opportunity to be motivated from some of the top researchers in this field, including Shinya Yamanaka, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2012.”

Since then, Gautam has completed his doctorate, exploring the potential to use stem cells from patient biopsies to study and test drug treatments for hereditary spastic paraplegia—a group of inherited diseases that typically cause worsening weakness and stiffness of the legs, affecting a person’s ability to walk.

Dr Gautam Wali (right) in the lab with fellow researchers Dr Yongjun Fan and Prof Alan Mackay-Sim. (Photo courtesy of HSP Research Foundation)

Gautam used neural cells derived from the olfactory (nasal) mucosa and induced pluripotent stem cells reprogrammed from skin cells of patients with the condition and compared them with those from healthy controls to study the differences in cell functions.

One of his PhD supervisors, Professor Emeritus Alan Mackay-Sim has gone on to become the current Australian of the Year in recognition of his pioneering olfactory stem cell research, which has great potential for finding treatments for neurological disorders and spinal cord injury.

Gautam is now an early career researcher at the University of Sydney.

“My research interest is to use complementary patient-derived adult olfactory neural stem cell- and induced pluripotent stem cell models to understand the disease mechanism for neurological diseases that leads to drug screening.”

Foundation chairman Graeme Blackman says Gautam’s developing career highlights the importance of supporting Australia’s next generation of stem cell scientists.

“Our Young Investigator Awards program is all about investing in continuing Australia’s leadership in stem cell science by giving researchers early opportunities to network and share their work,” he says.

Read Gautam’s doctoral thesis abstract

Australia to Germany to China: book explores stories of stem cell tourism

The sociology and psychology of choosing unproven stem cell treatments

 Why do patients and their carers embark on expensive journeys to far flung places to receive treatments that are unlikely to provide benefit and, in fact, may inflict harm?

What are the dynamics of the rapidly evolving global stem cell tourism market? What are the potential dangers and benefits of these treatments, and how does the media portray them? And what does ‘informed choice’ mean for patients who have few options within conventional medicine?

These are among the questions authors Alan Petersen, Megan Munsie, Claire Tanner, Casimir MacGregor and Jane Brophy set out to explore in the new book Stem Cell Tourism and the Political Economy of Hope (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

This book draws on interviews with people who have travelled to Germany and China for unproven stem cell treatments, or undertaken them within Australia. The researchers also talked with the loved ones and carers who often facilitate and support a patient’s treatment—an area that has had little research, despite its influence.

For more information, visit Stem Cells Australia.

Listen to ABC Radio National’s Life Matters interview with Megan Munsie and Alan Petersen.


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.

Harvard News: How old can we get? It might be written in stem cells

Nature Editorial: Pioneering cell transplant shows vision and promise

Med Gadget: 3-D Brain-like structures created using human stem cells. Cell Paper

Scientific American: Cell therapy 2.0: reprogramming the brain's own cells for Parkinson's treatment

Tech Times: Immortal stem cells allow scientists to produce unlimited supply of blood. Nature Paper

Medical Express: New stem cell method produces millions of human brain, muscle cells in days. Cell Paper

Cosmos Magazine: Regulators need to protect stem cell promise

Discover Magazine: Unethical ‘stem cell’ therapy for autism in India?

New York Times: Patients lose sight after stem cells are injected into their eyes. New England Journal of Medicine Paper

The Conversation: How ‘cannibalism’ by breast cancer cells promotes dormancy

Bioscience Technology: Scientists create artificial mouse 'embryo' from stem cells for first time

The Conversation: Organoids - the future of medical research

The Orange County Register: Why scientists and doctors are saying avoid largely unproven stem cell therapy

New Atlas: Nanofiber matrix sends stem cells sprawling in all directions. Biomaterials Paper

Herald Sun: Melbourne scientists’ breast cell study offers cancer treatment hope

Medical News Today: Engineering thyroid cells from stem cells may lead to new therapies

New Scientist: Clinic claims it has used stem cells to treat Down's syndrome, but announcement has alarmed independent researchers

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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