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Engineered heart tissue and other treatments the target of a new half-billion-dollar international research effort

February 28, 2022


Australian scientists lead new international research centre. 

Australian scientists lead new international research centre

An international collaboration of three research institutes will develop new drugs and therapies using human stem cells to treat heart, respiratory and kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, and other conditions.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine, or ‘reNEW’, is a €300 million (A$468 million) collaboration between Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Australia, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and Leiden University Medical Center in The Netherlands.

Pioneering Australian scientist Professor Melissa Little has been appointed CEO.

Professor Little, Chief Scientist at MCRI, is known for creating functioning ‘mini-kidneys’ from stem cells, used to study diseases and test treatments.

“Stem cell research has come so far,” says Melissa. “Right now we are producing beating heart tissue that may be able to treat children with congenital heart disease. And we’re really only scratching the surface.”

Cardiac stem cell researcher Professor Enzo Porrello, a 2018 Metcalf Prize-winner, will be Director of reNEWS’s Melbourne node.

He will oversee the centre’s research at MCRI and continue his own work developing patches of heart tissue that can contract to provide extra blood-pumping power to people with heart conditions.

“I’m really excited about the development of these engineered heart patches,” he says. “Over the next few years, we want to move that work forward to a point where we’ve established it’s safe and effective in large animal trials. Then we can begin to think about taking that into the clinic for human trials.”

Enzo says the MCRI’s inclusion as one of reNEW’s three institutes is a recognition of the strengths in stem cell research in Australia.

“This is the first time in its history that the Novo Nordisk Foundation has invested in an international centre of this nature. All of their previous centres are Danish,” he explains.

Under the collaboration, University of Melbourne Professor Megan Munsie will also be joining MCRI part-time to lead reNEW’s social, ethical and regulatory research theme. Megan is an expert in stem cell ethics, legislation and the global regulatory environment, and is one of our Directors.

Watch a video about MCRI’s involvement in reNEW.

Read more about reNEW on MCRI’s website.

The National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia would like support more mid-career scientists like Enzo Porrello, which is why we award two $55,000 Metcalf Prizes to promising local researchers each year. Thanks to the support of our donors, we will open the 2022 Prizes for nominations mid-year.

Read more about the Metcalf Prizes.

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