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Permanent hearts and changing breasts spur stem cell research

November 03, 2019


The stubborn endurance of heart cells and remarkable plasticity of breasts have won two Queensland researchers $50,000 each in the annual Metcalf Prizes, awarded by the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.

Dr Felicity Davis of the University of Queensland’s Mater Research Institute is investigating the secret life of mammaries: how they develop, how they change during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and how things can go wrong.

“Breast stem cells live in a world of change – from a basic mammary structure in the embryo, to rapid growth during puberty, and then drastically changing again with each pregnancy,” she says.

Read more about Felicity Davis and her research.

Associate Professor James Hudson of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute studies the human heart, and how its cells have to last a lifetime without renewal. To better understand this, he has made more than 20,000 beating ‘mini-hearts’, called organoids.

“Heart muscle cells essentially have one job to do throughout our lives. They don’t like change and are difficult to regenerate,” he says.

Read more about James Hudson and his research.

Both researchers are transforming our understanding of how we might work with stem cells to understand, prevent and treat disease.

Both scientists have been recognised by the Foundation for their early-career leadership in stem cell research. 

“We hope that supporting Felicity Davis’ work will help make a difference in this important area of women’s and children’s health, and that James Hudson’s work will help us tackle Australia’s biggest killer,” says Dr Graeme Blackman AO, the chairman of the Foundation.

“Both scientists are great examples of the depth and breadth of stem cell research undertaken in Australia – all of it bringing us closer to important clinical outcomes.”

The awards are named for the late Professor Donald Metcalf AC, who, over a 50-year career, helped transform cancer treatment and transplantation medicine, paving the way for potential stem cell therapy in the treatment of many other conditions.

Professor Hugh Taylor AC will present the 2019 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research at a special event in Melbourne on Thursday 28 November 2019.

Images and video of James and Felicity and their research are available here.

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