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February 2021

Saving our skin; what new therapies should we back?

Support stem cell research into melanoma

We need your help to fight melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.

We’ve supported Professor Mark Shackleton’s stem cell research to find new ways to prevent melanoma and also to treat vitiligo, a skin disease characterised by patches of skin lacking the pigment melanin.

Our story below explains how you can help Mark’s work progress to the next phase.

We’re now looking for new projects to back through our Matched Funding Program. If you know a stem cell scientist whose research projects are nearing clinical trials, encourage them to be in the running for the 2021 funding round’s four $100,000 grants. Details below.

Finally, each year we support two exceptional mid-career researchers with the Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research.

Our latest winners are tackling the fundamentals of cancer cell growth and the genetics of leukaemia treatment and survival. They are Dr Melanie Eckersley-Maslin and Associate Professor Steven Lane, and they each receive $55,000 as part of the prize.

This morning Professor Suzanne Cory AC FAA FRS presented our newest winners with their awards at a special event held online. Congratulations Melanie and Steven.

Steven spoke to ABC’s Bern Young about the prize and the inspiration of Donald Metcalf’s contribution to science. You can listen to the interview on our website.

Kind regards,

Dr Graeme L Blackman AO
Chairman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

In this bulletin:

Science that could save your skin

Stem cell project targets two diseases: melanoma and vitiligo

The Foundation is backing Professor Mark Shackleton’s stem cell research aimed at preventing melanoma and treating vitiligo – two diseases affecting the melanin pigment-producing cells, called melanocytes.

His project was one of four selected by the Foundation last year to receive a total of $100,000; with the Foundation matching the $50,000 provided by other donors.

While we’ve met the funding cap for this project, you can still donate to support Mark’s work and we will pass the funds on.

Melanoma is an aggressive cancer that kills nearly 1,400 Australians each year.

Vitiligo, a condition where patches of skin stop producing pigment and become pale or white, may not be life-threatening, but it can cause deep distress to the one in every 100 Australians who develop it.

Mark, an oncologist and researcher at the Alfred Hospital and Monash University in Melbourne, and his team believe stem cell science could hold the answers to both conditions and are working to bring treatments to clinical trials within five years.

“In essence, there’s two main diseases which arise from melanocytes: one involves having too many melanocytes, which is melanoma, and the other results from not having enough melanocytes, which is vitiligo,” Mark says.

Mark’s approach centres on adapting drugs, treatments and techniques that have demonstrated safe use for other conditions.

He believes his research could lead to clinical trials for vitiligo treatments and melanoma-prevention within five years.

For example, he has found that a blood cancer drug undergoing clinical trials can protect melanocytes from the effects of UV radiation in the lab.

Read full story online.


We’re looking for new therapies to back

Call for expressions of interest for up to $100,000 per project

Are you writing a cheque to support research that deserves more funding? Do you know a scientist whose stem cell research holds promise for new treatments? Or are you one such scientist yourself? Now is the time to get in touch!

Our Matched Funding Program provides up to four $100,000 research grants to scientists developing promising treatments. The 2021 round opens for Expressions of Interest from interested and eligible scientists today.

Under the program, the Foundation will match money it receives from approved donors up to a maximum of $50,000, potentially providing a total of $100,000 for a successful research project.

To be eligible the research project must be:

  • utilising stem cell technology
  • performed predominantly in Australia
  • preclinical studies that would inform a clinical trial OR ready to conduct a clinical trial.

Applications close on Monday 8 March. For more information and to download the Expression of Interest form, visit the Foundation’s 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:

New India Express: Study sheds light on how blood stem cells maintain their lifelong potential for self-renewal. Paper.

EurekAlert: Robin Lovell-Badge receives the 2021 ISSCR Public Service Award

The New Daily: Motor neurone disease: Researchers hope existing drugs can reverse deadly nerve damage

SciTech Daily: Cure for blindness in sight: retinal stem cell transplant clears experimental hurdle. Paper.

UNSW Medicine: Scientists are a step closer to developing ‘smart’ stem cells – and they’re made from human fat. Paper.

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre: Mystery proteins reveal how embryos and cancers grow

QIMR Berghofer: QIMR Berghofer scientist awarded Metcalf Prize for stem cell research

CTV News: 5 things scientists learned in 2020 from research conducted in space


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