Stay in touch

August 2018

Last call for applications for the 2018 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research.

Welcome to the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s bulletin on stem cell medicine and research in Australia.
We're inviting mid-career stem cell scientists to apply. Two prizes, worth $50,000 each, will be awarded to one male and one female mid-career researcher.
We’ve extended the applications deadline by a few days. They will now close 11.59pm on Thursday 9 August 2018. Do encourage your colleagues to enter. Read on for more details.
Find out how the Prize has helped 2017 winner Jessica Mar. She says that the media coverage and peer acknowledgement helped her re-establish herself in Australia’s scene after spending several years overseas. More below.
The buzz from Melbourne’s recent International Society for Stem Cell Research 2018 Annual Meeting is continuing. Stories from the Meeting are still emerging in the media—see our regular round-up of stories below—and the full video recording of our public forum is now online. Read on for details.
Kind regards,
Dr Graeme L Blackman AO
Chairman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

In this bulletin:

Metcalf Prizes: what it’s like to win and how to apply

Catching up with 2017 winner Jessica Mar 
2017 Metcalf Prize winning computational biologist Jessica Mar is analysing stem cells to discover the changes that influence ageing. Who will win the 2018 Prizes?
Jessica says the Prize was a well-timed opportunity for her as she returned from New York to Australia to take up a Future Fellowship, based at The University of Queensland.
“All the attention, recognition and media interviews I had as part of winning a Metcalf Prize made me feel like I was returning to Australia with a bang!” she says.
“It’s really helped me to link in with my old networks, form new relationships and collaborations, and kick-start this new phase of my career back home.”
Jessica is particularly excited about bringing together her past and current research institutes—the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Brisbane—for future collaborative work on drugs for ageing.
2018 Metcalf Prizes: one week left to apply
Two up-and-coming leaders in stem cell science will be awarded $50,000 each to boost their career to the next level. If you know a promising stem cell researcher, encourage them to apply.
The 2018 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research are open to mid-career researchers who are five to 10 years past their PhD or MD (research-based) and working in stem cell research in Australia. They could be working in medicine or agriculture, government or academia.
The Metcalf Prizes support the Foundation’s mission to promote the study and use of stem cells in the prevention or control of disease in human beings and to enhance stem cell public education.
Applications close Thursday 9 August. We encourage last year’s unsuccessful applicants to apply again this year if they are still eligible.
To apply online, and for a full list of criteria and conditions, head to the Foundation’s website:
If you have any questions about eligibility or the application process, please contact Tanya Ha at Science in Public, who are administering the awards for the Foundation: [email protected].

Eyes, heart, skin, kidneys & blood: what’s the state of play with stem cell research?

Highlights from the Stem Cell Research - Now and in the Future public forum

  • Your bone marrow makes one million new mature blood cells every second. Your life depends on it!
    • You can take one bone marrow stem cell and regenerate the entire blood system in the lab.
  • Your skin is a vital barrier. Without it, you’re vulnerable to dehydration and infections from bacteria, fungi and other pathogens.
    • Skin grafts for treating burns and other skin conditions can restore a protective barrier and can be made from stem cells found in the epidermis.
    • Stem cell researchers now want to produce skin tissue that has hair follicles and sweat glands, that comfortably stretches, cools itself down and has the sense of touch.
  • Cardiac disease affects at least 1.4 million Australians and almost 350,000 will have a heart attack at some point in their life. One in every two people with severe heart failure will die within one year of diagnosis. Stem cells may have the potential to treat heart failure.
  • Kidneys are complex organs with two million little tubules called nephrons. The stem cells that form nephrons are gone by the time you’re born.
  • Beware, some of the clinics offering experimental treatments for conditions like multiple sclerosis may have no experience treating that condition at all.

These are just some of the things a live audience learnt from six Australian stem cell scientists at the ‘Stem Cell Research—Now and in the Future’ forumthe public event held in the lead up to the ISSCR 2018 Annual Meeting in Melbourne.
The Foundation sponsored the event to give people an opportunity to hear from the top scientists and clinicians in town for ISSCR 2018.
The audience heard about the current state of play with research and treatments for eye, skin, heart, kidney and blood disorders. They also had the opportunity to ask the panel their own questions; from what inspired the panellists to become stem cell scientists (with one freaky sci-fi related answer), to the treatment options here and overseas for MS.
You can now watch the full event video recording on our website in the video gallery.
As host and organiser Megan Munsie says in the introduction, “We hope that after tonight’s presentations and the opportunity for you to ask questions, you’ll know a little bit more about what stem cell research is, what stem cells do in the body and possible the applications of stem cell science for the future.”
Watch out for:

  • Susie Nilsson’s simple schematic of how the different blood cell types are formed
  • Metcalf Prize winning cardiologist James Chong’s video of stem cell-derived heart muscle cells beating under a microscope
  • the moving personal story of Daniel Feller whose son Harry has Usher Syndrome, which causes deafness from birth and blindness in adolescence.

A big “thank you” to the panellists, the event partners, the student ambassadors, and especially Megan Munsie who hosted and organised the event.

Top award for the stem cell scientist who pioneered mini-kidneys

In the past year Melissa Little has:

  • Grown mini-kidneys using stem cells derived from adult skin cells
  • Shown these mini-kidneys can mature in a mouse and filter blood
  • Started using these mini-kidneys to model kidney disease, screen for drugs and explore therapies
  • Led the team that attracted 2,800 stem cell researchers to Melbourne last month
  • Served as President of the Australian Society of Stem Cell Research
  • Taken up leadership of Stem Cells Australia.

Her vision is that she will be able to use stem cells to treat kidney disease affecting nearly one in ten Australians. It won’t be easy and it will take years, but she believes she can make it happen during her career.

On Wednesday 26 June, Melissa received the National Health and Medical Research Council Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship – Biomedical. The Fellowship is named after 2009 Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn who discovered how chromosomes are protected by telomeres. Melissa was one of 20 of Australia’s finest health and medical researchers honoured at the NHMRC’s annual Research Excellence Awards in Canberra.

Melissa is an internationally-respected leader in the development of ‘mini-organoids’ from stem cells. She leads cell biology and kidney research at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne.

Congratulations Melissa!
Read more on our website.

Stem cell news from around the world

Between newsletters, we share stem cell news on social media:

Here are a few stories we’ve shared recently:
9News: Stem cell research given $3 million funding boost
ABC Science: These mice have brains that are part human. So are they mice, or men?
LA times: Angels pitcher Garrett Richards' stem cell treatment failed. That should help dispel the stem cell hype
The Conversation: CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing scissors are less accurate than we thought, but there are fixes
Eureka Alert: NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts
MD Magazine: Characterizing dangerous, unregulated stem cell therapy for ocular disease
Eureka Alert: What's in an egg? Oocyte factors that can reprogram adult cells
The Guardian: Seven ways IVF changed the world – from Louise Brown to stem-cell research
ABC Radio National Science Friction: Elixir for everything? Private stem cell clinics, hope, hype, and horror
Johns Hopkins Medicine: Scientists create nano-size packets of genetic code aimed at brain cancer ‘seed’ cells