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July 2018

2 x $50,000 prizes for rising stars in stem cell research

Do you know any up-and-coming stem cell researchers who deserve recognition?

Welcome to the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s bulletin on stem cell medicine and research in Australia.

I’m pleased to announce that the 2018 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research are now open. 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.

Applications close 11.59pm on Monday 6 August 2018.


Last year’s winners Mark Dawson and Jessica Mar were chosen from a strong field of candidates, highlighting the quality of stem cell research in our country. We encourage people who applied last year to do so again. Read on for more details.

The Metcalf Prizes are part of our mission to support stem cell research in Australia. It’s been a delight to see the careers of scientists we’ve funded in the past go from strength to strength.

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

In this bulletin:

  • Do you know a rising star in stem cell research?
  • Building a blood cancer treatment; how we and our stem cells age—meet last year’s Metcalf Prize winners
  • Stem cell news from around the world

Do you know a rising star in stem cell research?

Applications for $50,000 prizes for stem cell research now open

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 winners will be chosen for their scientific excellence, proven leadership ability and the potential to have a continuing influence on stem cell research in Australia.


Past Metcalf Prize winners include:

Melbourne haematologist Mark Dawson,

Brisbane computational biologist Jessica Mar,

Sydney heart clinician and researcher James Chong (pictured), who shared his insights as a cardiologist and scientist with the audience at our recent public forum,

  • Melbourne immunologist Tracy Heng,
  • bioinformatician Christine Wells, who has moved from Brisbane to the university of Melbourne to establish the Centre for Stem Cell Systems,
  • Perth geneticist Ryan Lister,
  • Tasmanian neural stem cell researcher Kaylene Young, and
  • Monash University reprogramming legend Jose Polo, who presented at last month’s global stem cell science meeting in Melbourne.

The Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research recognise and honour the exceptional contribution made to stem cell research by the late Professor Donald Metcalf. Over his 50-year career, Don helped transform cancer treatment and transplantation medicine, and paved the way for potential stem cell therapy in the treatment of many other conditions.
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 Monday 6 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].

Building a blood cancer treatment; how we and our stem cells age—meet last year’s Metcalf Prize winners

Melbourne clinician-scientist takes leukaemia discoveries from bench to bedside  


Photo credit: Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Mark Dawson has helped to build a new drug to fight an aggressive form of blood cancer. He discovered the basic science of gene expression in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), helped develop a drug to block that action and is leading an international clinical trial to test it.

Mark first explored how genes function in leukaemia, then identified molecules that interrupt the key genetic instructions that perpetuate cancer cells. The drug subsequently developed to treat AML is now the subject of more than 50 clinical trials around the world.

“Each year, more than 1,000 Australians are diagnosed with AML, and more than 70 per cent of these people will die within five years,” says Mark.

“By studying the differences and commonalities between healthy blood stem cells and leukaemia stem cells, I hope to help develop less toxic, more targeted drug treatments that will see more of my patients live longer and healthier lives.”

Professor Mark Dawson is a clinician-scientist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. He is the program head of the Translational Haematology Program, Group leader of the Cancer Epigenetics Laboratory and Consultant Haematologist in the Department of Haematology.

Read Mark’s full profile online

Brisbane researcher reveals how some stem cells get forgetful while others get set in their ways


Jessica Mar (Photo credit: AIBN at UQ)

Jessica Mar is analysing stem cells to discover the changes that influence ageing.

We all started life as a stem cell. Throughout our lives, stem cells repair and replace our tissues, but as we age they stop working as well. Understanding how this decline occurs is fundamental to understanding—and influencing—how we age.

Jessica is studying ageing stem cell models with collaborators around Australia to answer these questions. She is also collaborating on longevity research internationally, and will work with two study populations, ‘super-centenarians’ in Japan who live to 110 years or more, and a group of Ashkenazi Jews who are aged 95 years and older.

“There are two schools of thought,” she says. “Some researchers believe that errors creep into the translation of our genes into proteins causing genetic noise and disease. Others are adamant that the noise decreases and that the stem cells become less able to adapt to circumstance. My research has shown that it’s actually a bit of both.”

In 2011, Jessica demonstrated for the first time that both can be true. Working with 2017 Australian of the Year Alan Mackay-Sim and his collection of nasal stem cells from patients, she showed increased genetic noise is linked with Parkinson’s disease. Then she showed the opposite in schizophrenia.

Jessica will use her Metcalf Prize to expand her research and introduce the next generation of stem cell researchers to the power of ‘centenarian studies’. It’s all based on big data, and powerful computer analysis of the genomes of millions of individual cells from hundreds of people.

Associate Professor Jessica Mar is a Principal Research Fellow at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland.

Read Jessica’s full profile online

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:
Particle: Could this creature hold the future of regenerative medicine? (featuring Metcalf Prize winner Ryan Lister)
Knoepfler Lab Blog: Too much carrot and not enough stick on stem cell oversight
Wisconsin State Journal: Fujifilm Cellular Dynamics says it will make brain cells that can boost research on Alzheimer's
USC News: Perfectly punctual or fashionably late, it takes all kinds of cells to build a kidney. Paper.
Therapeutics Education Collaboration: Talking about stem cell therapies with Tim Caulfield (podcast)
Cosmos magazine: Artists join the ARMI
News Medical: Study shows blood stem cells compensate for immune cell deficiencies
Futurism: We can now treat sick babies with stem cells before they’re even born
CBS News: Woman says experimental stem cell procedure for eye disease was “too good to be true”
Eureka Alert: First 3D-printed human corneas