Researchers working with stem cells to restore sight and fight blood cancers are the two winners of the 2022 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research, awarded by the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.
Dr Anai Gonzalez-Cordero’s research aims to restore sight in people with inherited retinal diseases, by repairing or replacing damaged photoreceptor (light-sensing) cells in the eye.
She has already shown that she can grow cultures of healthy photoreceptor cells in a dish in the lab and then use the cells to replace the defective cells and restore sight in laboratory models of hereditary blindness. And she has shown that gene therapy can repair diseased human retinal cells grown in the lab as ‘mini-organs’ (or ‘organoids’), providing them with normal light-sensing ability.
Her $55,000 Metcalf Prize will contribute to developing systems to progress both concepts towards clinical trials. She is based at the Children’s Medical Research Institute in Western Sydney.
Dr Ashley Ng is revealing how blood stem cells are controlled, and how they can go rogue, leading to blood cancers. He has discovered how a protein known as ‘ERG’ underpins the healthy development of blood cells, but how it also plays a role in Down syndrome-associated leukaemia and a range of other blood cancers.
As a researcher at WEHI and a clinician at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter Mac, Ashley will use his $55,000 Metcalf Prize to advance his ideas from the laboratory into treatments for blood and blood cancer diseases.
“Blood stem cells can form any cell of the blood system and they self-renew, so they are a source of endless supply. But blood cancers can also arise from these cells, and are responsible for three per cent of all deaths in Australia.
“The work of these two remarkable researchers illustrates the potential of stem cell science to advance medicine,” says Dr Graeme Blackman AO, the chairman of the Foundation.
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.
The 2022 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research will be formally presented at the Australasian Society of Stem Cell Research Annual Scientific Meeting on Wednesday 16 November.