Can I get medical advice through this website?
The National Stem cell Foundation of Australia is a philanthropic foundation supporting stem cell research and its potential applications in the treatment of illnesses for which current treatments are unsatisfactory. We do not treat patients, do not have any direct affiliation with treatment centres, and cannot give personal medical advice or recommendations.
How advanced is stem cell science in curing diseases like MS or MND, or cure spinal cord injuries?
Although there have been major advances in the study of stem cell biology, and in our understanding of how stem cells can be manipulated to produce different cell types for potential treatment applications, at present most stem cell treatment remains experimental, with benefits and safety still to be clearly established.
So are there any stem cell treatments currently in use?
Yes, and in fact it was Australian stem cell scientiss who were successful in the use of blood forming stems in bone marrow transplantation, which has saved many lives over the past 50 years. This treatment is known as a bone marrow transplant, and you may heard of proceudre being used to treatment some forms of leaukaemia.
Besides bone marrow transplants, stem cells found in the skin and cornea of the eye have also been used successfully in skin grafts and corneal grafts. In all these instances the stem cells are already committed to producing the cells of the tissues which is damaged – ie they are doing the repair job that they are already programmed to perform.
How can I find out more about which stem cell treatments are in development in Australia and overseas?
The Canadian Stem Cell Network website https://stemcellnetwork.ca/stem-cells/disease-regional-profiles/ has good information relating to disease specific progress in stem cell treatment research, as does the European Stem Cell website where you can search for progress in a specific disease area: https://www.eurostemcell.org/what-diseases-and-conditions-can-be-treated-stem-cells
I’ve read on several websites that stem cells will cure my disease or medical condition. How do I know if I should have a stem cell treatment?
Your treating specialist is the person who will be most up to date on the standard treatments available for your condition and on the progress of exciting new therapies. He/she will also be able to assist in assessing the suitability of a clinical trial that you may be interested in, and in assessing your eligibility to participate. We strongly advise you to visit your GP and not seek medical advice from the internet.
If stem cells can be used to regenerate or produce new blood and skin, why can’t stem cells repair other organs like the heart or liver?
Repairing damage in complex organs where many different types of cells may have been injured (such as the brain after a stroke or the failing heart) presents many more challenges. However in Australian scientists lead the world in building and repairing heart muscles.
How can I find out about clinical trials?
The Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials registry at www.ANZCTR.org lists current trials open within Australia and NZ. The US trials register at www.clinicaltrials.gov lists studies that are taking place in the US and many other countries. Eligibility criteria and contact details for the Study coordinator are listed for each study.
Can I trust that the trials listed on these websites are safely run under proper medical supervision?
Many registered studies are well designed trials, approved by ethics committees, registered with the NIH and carried out in academic institutions, without charge to the patient. Unfortunately the US site now also lists ‘trials’ carried out by private clinics that may not meet appropriate scientific or ethical standards. There are unfortunately now many 'Treatment Centres' and ‘Regenerative Medicine Clinics’ around the world, including in Australia, that advertise unproven and unregulated stem cell treatment (usually using autologous patient cells obtained by liposuction, see below) for a large number of diseases. Sadly these trials are carried out without evidence of safety or efficacy of this treatment. and usually at significant cost to the patient (not reimbursable by Medicare).
How can I find out more about unsafe treatment treatments?
The ‘Australian Stem Cell Handbook’ available free on our website, has a chapter on ‘Unproven Therapies’ and lists some of the questions you should ask in trying to establish the credentials of any centre from which you might consider seeking treatment. The booklet also provides further information on stem cells and how they may ultimately be used. You may find stem cell treatement centres outside Australia advertised on the internet. It is common for such centres to also promote unsafe stem cell treatments. Information about “stem cell tourism” can be found in the Foundation’s handbook, as well as from
The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation website http://www.stemcellfoundation.ca has good information relating to disease specific progress in stem cell treatment research, as does the European Stem Cell website www.eurostemcell.org Your treating specialist is the person who will be most up to date on the standard treatments available for your condition and on the progress of exciting new therapies. He/she will also be able to assist in assessing the suitability of a clinical trial that you may be interested in, and in assessing your eligibility to participate
I need information about donating my eggs / embryos, for research.
Human embryo research and the use of human eggs for research and training in assisted reproductive techniques (ART), is tightly regulated in Australia, requiring licensing of the researchers by the National Health and Medical Research Council (the NHMRC) for each research project.
The members of the Science and Ethics Committee of the NSCFA are not experts in this complex legal/ethical field. We did however seek advice from a senior consultant in the field and the reply received is copied below, explaining why altruistic donation of eggs or embryos for research may not always be possible – there are many ART clinics but not all will be associated with embryo research projects (and much research involving donated eggs would involve creation of embryos, so falls under these provisions).
In Australia, human embryo research is licensed and regulated by the NHMRC and their website has an Embryo Research section that lists current and past licensed projects. Essentially, all of the projects are carried out either within an ART unit or at least with their involvement so the licence holders will be the ART clinics.
There is tight control of the numbers of embryos that can be used in each project so, in general terms, there is no shortage of donated embryos for the projects i.e. clinics will be able to complete their projects using embryos donated from their own patients. This is why there has been really no need to transfer embryos between clinics. In fact, in many cases, patients within embryo research licensed clinics who wish to have their embryos used for research are told that it may not be possible to guarantee their inclusion in the research.
If you have attended a specialist within a Assisted Reproduction Clinic then this would be the most appropriate person with whom to discuss this further.
How do I find out more about Cord Blood Banking?
Australia is well served with 3 public Cord Blood Banks (CBB), one each in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, collecting from 11 different maternity hospitals. These banks have been in operation for the last 20 years and are licensed by the Australian Regulatory agency, the TGA as well as being internationally accredited by a body setting international Standards for cord blood banking and release, called FACT (the Foundation for Accreditation of Cellular Therapies). In addition to these banks, a further public bank is in development in Perth. Read more aboout Public Cord Blood Banking here.
There is no charge for the collection or storage of CB in the Public Banks but there are strict eligibility criteria and collection can only occur in one of the licensed obstetric units associated with the Banks, and if baby’s delivery occurs during the times that the collection staff are on duty.
This CB is not stored specifically for use by a member of your family. Cord bloods from Public Banks are made available for patients with suitable matching, in Australia and internationally, who need a marrow transplant but do not have a suitably matched family or adult unrelated donor. To date over a thousand cord blood units have been released to patients in need, from the Auscord Banks.
For further information about altruistic cord blood donation and the hospitals at which CB collection is possible, the Banks may be contacted as follows:
BMDI CBB located at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne: 039345 5834
Brisbane CBB at the Mater Hospital: 0731631614
Sydney CBB at the Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick: 0293820371
In addition to the public banks there is a private cord blood banks in Australia: CellCare. They arrange collection of an infant’s CB at the obstetric hospital, process and store the CB for potential use by the infant donor, or another close family member, at some time in the future. There are costs associated with private CB collection and private banking. Contact details information about the services provided and the schedule of charges, may be found on the CellCare’s website.
Why does the Foundation promote stem cell research?
After more than twenty years of research into stem cells, by understanding how stem cells function and can be manipulated, scientists have opened a wide range of opportunities to diagnose and treat illnesses and tissue injuries that, up to now, have resisted treatment. Severe injuries to the spinal cord and Parkinson's disease in the brain are two that have received a lot of public attention but the use of stem cells and their derivatives to carry or be therapeutic agents for treating serious diseases like cancer is growing exponentially. The Foundation aims to accelerate the rate of development of effective treatments based on this research.
How does your organisation promote Stem Cell Research?
We raise funds to help young scientists to attend conferences where they hear reports of the latest research techniques and findings, meet leading colleagues in their field and have the chance to report their own work to critical audiences. The Foundation awards two Metcalf prizes annually, to a woman and a man who are established research workers, to give impetus to their research and allow them to begin new projects, accelerate existing ones or explore new aspects of current initiatives. On the Foundation's web site (www.stemcellfoundation.net.au), you can find a link to our snapshot of Australian stem cell research in the dark green panel on the right hand side.
Where can I find reliable information about stem cells?
Our web site contains up to date information about stem cell science and links to major sites in our field.
All three sites include sections on the ethical issues relating to stem cell research and the dangerous illnesses that are likely to respond to treatments based on stem cell science.
Why is stem cell science controversial?
In surveys of public opinion, more than 80% of Australians support research into stem cells so the word "controversial" is not really accurate. Originally, controversy arose around the use of embryonic stem cells. Hardly any research in Australia now involves such cells. Most of it is on adult stem cells or their derivatives, such as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). When you go to the relevant web sites, you will be able to find these things out for yourself. The pressing ethical issue currently is the growth of private commercial clinics claiming to provide stem cell treatments for a wide range of diseases. Their treatments are largely untested in proper clinical trials, very expensive, and the companies prey on the fears of people desperate for help for their illnesses or those of relatives or friends. One might argue that there ought to be more controversy about this.
What is Therapeutic Cloning?
‘Therapeutic cloning’ refers to the formation of embryonic stem cells by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT). In this process, the nucleus of an animal/human gamete (egg) is replaced with one from a mature cell (e.g. a skin cell) from another animal/individual, leading to the formation of a pluripotent cell with the genetic characteristics of the donor of the nuclear material. This pluripotent cell has the ability to divide and form an embryo. Although it is theoretically possible for an embryo formed through SCNT to develop into a ‘clone’ of the nuclear donor this could only occur if the embryo were to be implanted into a uterus. This is strictly prohibited in Australia, Europe and the USA and has never occurred. It is important to note also that SCNT is an extremely difficult process with a low success rate. The use of pluripotent cells derived from embryos formed by SCNT has very largely been superseded by the discovery in 2006 that it was possible to reprogram ‘adult’ somatic cells to revert to a pluripotent embryonic like cell – these cells are termed induced pluripotent cells and show great promise for future therapeutic and research applications without the ethical concerns raised by the use of embryonic stem cells whether derived from ’excess’ fertilised embryos created by IVF for fertility treatment, or by SCNT.
The ethical considerations around the use of embryonic SC in research and treatment of disease as well as further information about the different types of stem cells, are well laid out in several FACT sheets to be found on the this link to the European Stem Cell Foundation. Secondary teachers and students may also find information on ethical issues in this subject sequence for VCE Biology here.
What are the medical benefits of stem cells?
As stem cells can be induced to grow into new tissues, they have great potential to treat illnesses where tissue has been completely lost, for instance after injury to the spinal cord or nerves, death of heart muscle from a heart attack, liver failure from destruction of cells by viruses or toxins or destruction of functioning lung tissue by disease. Formal clinical trials of adult stem cells are in progress in several countries to assess whether such treatments are effective and safe.
The ability to “manufacture” stem cells from adult donors and patients themselves (see section above on iPSC) has reduced the need to use embryonic stem cells, and opened up a wide range of new possibilities in immunological treatments for cancer, production of vaccines and new therapeutic proteins and diagnostic tests.