October 2016

What’s new with regenerating hearts and spinal cords; regulation versus status quo; and stem cell winners at Eureka Prizes

Welcome to the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s bulletin on stem cell medicine and research in Australia.
Stem cell science is progressing rapidly. Scientific meetings, workshops and conferences provide the opportunity for scientists, clinicians, and the biotech industry to keep abreast of the latest research and clinical trials, and to hear directly from the scientists at the forefront of the field.
The Foundation is supporting two scientific meetings in Sydney in the next few weeks. The first focuses on the potential of stem cell science for treating damaged hearts. The second explores the potential of regenerative medicine for brain and spinal cord injuries, and includes a public forum. Read on for details.
ABC 7.30’s recent alarming investigation of a stem cell treatment salesman and other media stories continue to highlight the predatory marketing and use of unproven treatments. The Foundation, among others, is calling for better regulation. We have contributed to the government review of current stem cell treatment regulations. Read on for an update on the review and our submission to it.
Finally, I’m delighted to see so many Australian stem cell researchers recognised at the recent Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. Among the award recipients were 2015 Metcalf Prize winner Christine Wells, who is part of a winning international collaboration, and mini-kidney pioneer Melissa Little, who has been a great support for the Metcalf Prizes as a member of our first judging panel. More on the Prizes below.

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

In this bulletin:

Workshop: how are stem cell treatments for brain and spinal cord injuries progressing?

Foundation sponsors Stem Cells and Neurological Injuries workshop

Neural stem cells generate multiple cell types. Photo by David MosesCan a stem cell bridge repair a damaged spinal cord? How are efforts to engineer new brain tissue progressing? Where are overseas clinical trials for cell therapies for chronic spinal cord injury up to?
These topics will be explored later this month in Sydney at the NSW Stem Cell Network Workshop on Stem Cells and Neurological Injuries, supported by the Foundation as part of our mission to support the Australian stem cell research community.
The workshop provides an opportunity for Australian and international researchers, industry representatives, and clinicians to meet and share the latest findings on stem cells and neurological injuries.
The workshop will look at applications of stem cells in neurological impairment, focusing on spinal cord damage. It will also discuss key biological aspects of neurological injuries, as well as clinical trials and novel engineering research in the field.
When: 9am – 5pm, Monday 31 October 
Where: Aerial Function Centre
University of Technology Sydney, Building 10, Level 7
235 Jones Street, Ultimo, NSW
International speakers:
  • Associate Professor Yang (Ted) D. Teng – Harvard Medical School, USA
  • Dr Damien Bates – SanBio, USA
  • Professor Jianwu Dai – Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
  • Dr Ken Taylor – Living Cell Technologies, New Zealand
Australian speakers:
  • Professor Alan Trounson – Hudson Institute of Medical Research
  • Professor Perry Bartlett – University of Queensland
  • Professor Bryce Vissel – University of Technology Sydney
  • Professor Simon Koblar – University of Adelaide
  • Dr James St John – Griffith University
  • Associate Professor David Nisbet – Australian National University
  • Associate Professor Mirella Dottori – University of Melbourne 
For more details, visit the NSW Stem Cell Network website.

Symposium: the science of stem cells for heart repair

Foundation-sponsored cardiac and vascular stem cell research symposium in Sydney

One in three people will die from cardiovascular causes worldwide. In Australia, 54,000 people suffer a heart attack and 20,000 die from chronic heart failure each year.
The good news is that new discoveries are challenging the dogma that hearts of adult humans and other mammals can’t regenerate after injury.
The three-day 17th Victor Chang International Symposium, ‘From Cardiovascular Development to Regenerative Medicine,’ will bring together local and international leaders in cardiology, stem cell science, developmental biology, and regenerative medicine, to ask how far the science has come and where we need to go next to realise the dream of heart regeneration.
When: Sunday 6 to Tuesday 8 November 
Where: Garvan Auditorium, 384 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst (Burton Street entrance)
Confirmed international speakers include:
  • Professor Ahsan Husain – Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  • Associate Professor Bernard Kuhn – Director of Research in Cardiology, Department of Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Professor Nadia Rosenthal – Scientific Director, The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine, USA; Chair in Cardiovascular Science, Imperial College London, UK.
For more details, visit the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute symposium page.

Public lecture: stem cell hype, hope, and heart repair

Cardiologist and Metcalf Prize winner James Chong will be among the event’s panellists. (Photo: Westmead Institute)People from all walks of life will have an opportunity to hear about the potential, risks, and reality of stem cell treatments for heart, blood, and other conditions at the Symposium’s free public lecture.
The line-up of speakers includes cardiologist and stem cell researcher Dr James Chong, who recently won a 2016 Metcalf Prize from the Foundation. James hopes to develop stem cell treatments for patients with heart failure.
Microbiologist Dr Melanie Thomson will also share her perspective of the hype and hope of stem cells as someone who is both a scientist and a multiple sclerosis patient.
When: Tuesday 8 November
Time: 2pm – 3pm Registration / Tea & Coffee
3pm – 5pm Public Lecture
5pm – 6pm Drinks 
Where: Garvan Auditorium, 384 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst (Burton Street entrance)
More information: Public Lecture: Stem Cells – Hype and Hope

Therapeutic Goods Administration review considers options from status quo to tighter regulation

Australian health clinics, cosmetic surgeons, and health businesses continue to advertise and offer unproven, expensive, and potentially harmful stem cell treatments.
People with debilitating illnesses are particularly vulnerable to the unethical, aggressive, and predatory marketing of stem cell ‘miracle cures’.
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).

Current regulations allow registered medical practitioners to collect and administer a patient’s own stem cells in a single course of treatment for a single condition. This use exempts the stem cells from inclusion in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods and its tighter regulation. The exclusion was intended to avoid complicating bone marrow transplants and similar well-established stem cell treatments.
The TGA has proposed four options:
  • Option 1 is essentially the status quo (with a minor modification to extend to dental practitioners).
  • Option 2 maintains existing exclusion for products (with a minor modification to extend to dental practitioners) provided the products are not advertised directly to consumers.
  • Option 3 maintains existing exclusion for products (with a minor modification to extend to dental practitioners) provided the products are not advertised directly to consumers and not more than minimally manipulated. Option 3 also introduces a new intermediate level of regulation for products that involve more than minimal manipulation reflecting the level of potential risk.
  • Option 4 maintains existing exclusion for products (with a minor modification to extend to dental practitioners) provided the products are not advertised directly to consumers and not more than minimally manipulated.
While the submission process closed on 6 October, the TGA advises that late submissions may be accepted until 27 October 2016 by email to bloodandtissues@tga.gov.au. Please contact the Biological Sciences Section to request an extension.
See the consultation page for more information about the TGA review.

A brief account of the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s response to the TGA 2016 consultation document

By Graham Macdonald – Chairman, Science and Ethics Committee
Following the wide response to an initial consultation document released for comment at the beginning of 2015, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) released a new document for comment, which incorporated responses to comments submitted to the original consultation. They noted many of the points raised by the Foundation (among others) and put forward four further options for possible incorporation into the regulatory framework for cell therapies.
The Foundation, through the Science and Ethics Committee, rejected Option 1, to leave things as they are, but supported the extension of regulations to dental practitioners.
The major change in suggested regulations was contained in three of the options, which was a prohibition of advertising. The Foundation thought that this would bring multiple improvements in the standard of cell and tissue therapy practices, by making it more likely that patients would approach stem cell clinics through the usual referral system and that their ordinary family or specialist doctors would be aware of the fact that this treatment had been given. The consultation document referred to a report from the NSW coroner on the death of a patient through inadequate follow-up immediately after a procedure.
The Foundation chose Option 3, the most rigorous regulatory proposal, as the best choice, on the basis of its focus on the quality of preparation of cells or tissues being used for treatment as well as its prohibition of advertising.

Prize-winning science: mapping genetic knowledge; mini-kidneys from stem cells; 3D printing with stem cells and polymers

Stem cell scientists clean up at the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes

Prize-winning stem cell researcher Christine Wells (Photo credit: AIBN at UQ)Stem cell scientists and projects were among the 16 awards presented for outstanding contributions to Australian science and innovation at the recent Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, likened to the ‘Oscars of Australian science’.
The FANTOM5 project, which maps the sets of genes expressed in each of our various cell types, won the 2016 Scopus Eureka Prize for Excellence in International Scientific Collaboration. This knowledge will help researchers understand genetic diseases and potentially allow them to engineer new cells for treatments.
Congratulations to 2015 Metcalf Prize winner Christine Wells, one of the leaders of FANTOM5, a massive international collaboration involving more than 260 scientists from 20 countries looking at the diversity of more than 400 cell types that make up the human body, studying how each of our genes is regulated, how they interact, and how they operate in disease and in health.
Watch the FANTOM5 video 

Melissa Little and Minoru Takasato at the Eureka Prize ceremonyPioneering Australian science recreating mini-kidneys from stem cells won the 2016 UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research for Melissa Little and Minoru Takasato from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.
See their entry video
Gordon Wallace, from the University of Wollongong won the 2016 CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science for taking his vision of ‘intelligent polymers’ and growing it into a $25 million centre of electromaterials science—one that is exploring the potential to 3D print the right arrangement of stem cells and non-living support structures needed for tissue repair.
See Gordon’s Eureka Prize video.
Kim McKay AO, Executive Director and CEO of the Australian Museum, said that the Eureka Prizes represent the best of Australian science.
“With the support of the wider science community along with our sponsors, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes help ensure Australian science is recognised and rewarded as it should be—as a focus for Australian innovation and achievement on the global stage.”
For more information about the Eureka Prizes, visit australianmuseum.net.au/eureka.

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 7.30: Stem cell marketer Mikael Wolfe referred to police over 'predatory' approaches to MS, cancer patients
  • Chron: Texas Heart Institute led research for organ repair using human stem cells
  • United Press International: Stem cells from the jaw bone may help repair damaged cartilage. Nature paper
  • CSL: Improving survival for patients with acute leukaemia—Steven Lane awarded an inaugural CSL Centenary Fellowship
  • The Guardian: Evidence suggests women's ovaries can grow new eggs
  • Kaiser Health News: Why scientists and doctors are saying avoid largely unproven stem cell therapy
  • Daily Mail: Stem cells magnet discovery could help heal bones, say scientists
  • Interesting Engineering: 3D printed bone heals injuries faster. Science Translational Medicine paper
  • Geelong Advertiser: Deakin University scientists make prostate cancer treatment breakthrough
  • Scicasts: Study suggests Zika infection may affect adult brain cells

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 aim to:

  • Promote the study and use of stem cells

  • Prevent or control diseases or illness

  • Enhance public education about stem cells