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August 2019

Stem cell treatment for type 1 diabetes nears trials; last call for $50K Metcalf Prize applications

Welcome to the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s bulletin on stem cell medicine and research in Australia.
120,000 Australians have type 1 or ‘juvenile diabetes’, and the number is increasing. It is one of the most common chronic childhood conditions, and can lead to serious complications, including kidney failure.
The Foundation is getting behind Sydney scientist Professor Bernie Tuch’s efforts to bring a promising new stem cell treatment for the condition to human trials. We invite you to join us.
We’re matching donations from the public to this project dollar-for-dollar. Read on for more information.
There’s just over a day left for mid-career scientists to apply the 2019 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research. Prizes, worth $50,000 each, will be awarded to one male and one female mid-career researcher.
We’ve extended the deadline to 11.59pm on Friday 2 August 2019. Visit our website for details.
We look forward to announcing the winners later in the year.
Kind regards,
Dr Graeme L Blackman AO
Chairman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

In this bulletin:

  • Stem cells and seaweed: a novel approach for type 1 diabetes
  • Stem cell news from around the world

Stem cells and seaweed: a novel approach for type 1 diabetes

New device progressing towards human trials

Type 1 diabetes is currently incurable, can be life-threatening, and, unlike type 2, can't be prevented through better diet and lifestyle choices. In 2015, the disease claimed 800 Australian lives.
Professor Bernie Tuch has been searching for a cure for more than 40 years. He’s getting close to it with the help of the unlikely combination of stem cells and seaweed.
Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the immune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, making the body unable to manage blood sugar.

Prof Bernie Tuch (left); Glucose monitors, injections, tests, and insulin pumps are part of the daily challenges of living with diabetes (right).

“Without insulin, you die,” Bernie says. “Sugar levels affect your performance: your cognitive capacity, your ability to think, your ability to act, and you may sometimes behave in a bizarre way when you don’t intend to.
“If they get too low, it’s an emergency; you fall into a coma. There are also cases of ‘dead-in-bed syndrome’ where people have died unexpectedly in their sleep.”
Currently, people with type 1 diabetes manage their condition using insulin pumps or multiple daily injections.
While these treatments keep people alive, Bernie points out that they’re not perfect. On average, people with type 1 diabetes have a lifespan 12 years shorter than those who don’t.
Bernie and his colleagues in Australia and Israel are developing an alternative approach.

They’re using stem cells to produce new insulin-producing beta cells and encasing them in protective micro-capsules made from alginate – a gel-like substance obtained from seaweed. The micro-capsules are arranged on special scaffolding inside a small device that is transplanted under the skin.
The device allows nutrients into the capsules and insulin to flow out into the blood stream while protecting the beta cells from the malfunctioning immune system.
With your support, the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia wants to help fund Bernie’s research and bring this life-changing treatment to clinical trials.
The Foundation is aiming to provide $1 million in funding for this project and will match, dollar-for-dollar, every donation made. Donations must be at least $500 and the total of donations made cannot exceed $500,000.
The Foundation is very pleased that the Lions District 201N3 Diabetes Foundation (based in Newcastle) has kicked off the campaign with a very generous donation of $40,000, which after the matching $40,000 was provided by the Foundation, resulted in $80,000 being provided for this vital research.
To make a donation to the Foundation’s Diabetes Project fund, visit the Foundation website.
Read the full story about this diabetes research initiative.

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:
The New Yorker: The promise and price of cellular therapies
Science Daily: Mapping cells in the ‘immortal’ regenerating hydra
New Atlas: Newly-discovered cells help patch up scarred hearts
Science Daily: Researchers explain muscle loss with menopause
MedicalXpress: Can magnetic stem cells improve cartilage repair?
CBC News: A stem cell ‘cautionary tale’ as Health Canada cracks down on private clinics
Sydney Morning Herald: The tragic results of stem cell ‘cures’
The West Australian: Hair-raising research in focus
Tech Crunch: Space moss, stem cells and more are on their way to the International Space Station Stem cells moonlight to protect the stomach from bacterial invaders