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June 2019

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 2019 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 29 July 2019.
Last year’s winners were Heather Lee and Enzo Porrello. Heather is analysing individual cancer cells to understand how some survive therapy, while Enzo is exploring newborn heart development to develop heart attack drugs and engineer ‘artificial pumps’ from patient stem cells. We encourage people who applied last year to do so again.  Read on for more details.
The promise of stem cell science is getting closer. Kaylene Young will start a clinical trial of a treatment for multiple sclerosis next month. She received a Metcalf Prize back in 2014. More below.
However unproven treatments are still being marketed to patients, despite the efforts of regulators around the world. Our round up of stem cell news includes recent stories including an ABC Media Watch story about an unproven treatment for osteoarthritis.
Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we’re able to support researchers like Kaylene and the other Metcalf Prize winners as they unravel the science of stem cells and their potential to address conditions from cancers to heart attacks to brain diseases.
You can help us continue to support stem cell scientists by making a tax-deductible donation online at our website.
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?
  • MS clinical trial set to kick-start brain repair with magnets
  • 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 2019 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, and have a primary focus on stem cells.
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:

  • Newcastle leukaemia researcher Heather Lee,
  • Melbourne heart development researcher Enzo Porrello,
  • Melbourne haematologist Mark Dawson,
  • Brisbane computational biologist Jessica Mar,
  • Sydney heart clinician and researcher James Chong,
  • Melbourne immunologist Tracy Heng,
  • bioinformatician Christine Wells, who is now Deputy Program Leader of Stem Cells Australia,
  • Perth geneticist Ryan Lister,
  • Tasmanian neural stem cell researcher Kaylene Young (read more about her below), and
  • Monash University reprogramming legend Jose Polo.

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 29 July. 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, go 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].

MS clinical trial set to kick-start brain repair with magnets 

Inaugural Metcalf Prize winner Kaylene Young’s stem cell research leads to potential new non-invasive treatment

A new pain-free treatment for multiple sclerosis using magnetism to stimulate brain repair is about to begin trials with patients in Hobart.
In multiple sclerosis, a person’s immune system attacks the insulation around their nerve cells. Without this insulation, nerves can’t reliably transmit signals to where they’re needed, leading to a range of often-debilitating symptoms.
Associate Professor Kaylene Young has been studying the insulating cells (called oliogdendrocytes) and the stem cells in the brain that make them (oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, or OPCs).
“We know OPCs make new oligodendrocytes throughout your life,” explains Kaylene.
“In conditions like multiple sclerosis, you can lose a lot of insulating oligodendrocytes in one area and that forms a lesion. We’re looking at the ability of those OPCs to come in and try to repair that lesion and replace those lost cells.”
Kaylene’s lab at the University of Tasmania is the only MS research group in the world exploring the insulation repair potential of transcranial magnetic stimulation, a non-invasive form of magnetic brain stimulation that has been used in the treatment of depression and other mental health conditions.
Kaylene has teamed up with neurologist Professor Bruce Taylor, head of the MS clinic at the Royal Hobart Hospital, to bring the treatment to clinical trials.
“You put a circular magnet about the size of a saucer over the person’s head and turn it on for three minutes,” says Kaylene.
“It’s a very low level of stimulation; the person won’t feel anything. But it’s enough to stimulate electrical activity in the brain. The OPCs respond to that by making more new insulating cells.”
The initial clinical trial, with 30 people with MS, will start in July 2019 and aims to establish the safety of the procedure. The team will also measure the effect of the treatment by taking MRI scans before and after treatment to look for changes in the size of brain lesions. Assuming all goes well, larger trials will follow.

Read the full story 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:
ABC The Science Show: Magnetic brain stimulation trials for multiple sclerosis
ABC Media Watch: Stem cell “miracle”
Wired: YouTube testimonials lure patients to shady stem-cell clinics

San Francisco Chronicle: Some stem cell experts want out of documentary after funding source revealed
University of Melbourne: Improving gut function in Hirschsprung Disease by adding new neurons
Drug Target Review: First blood-brain barrier chip using stem cells developed
STAT: Stem cell clinics co-opt [US] clinical-trials registry to market unproven therapies, critics say
Massive Science: Testing drugs on stem cells in petri dishes may revolutionize our understanding of difficult-to-study diseases
New Atlas: Harvard breakthrough shows stem cells can be genetically edited in the body
Science Daily: Killing the unkillable cancer cells
The Washington Post: FDA wins groundbreaking case against for-profit stem cell company
British Heart Foundation: Heart patches set for human trials
The Conversation: Misreporting the science of lab-made organs is unethical, even dangerous
Nine News: Promising gene therapy trial for haemophilia
Sydney Morning Herald: Would you eat lab-created fish? This startup is carving new path in 'alt-meat' industry
Australian Academy of Science: Exploring how blood cells are produced: Prof Warren Alexander one of 22 scientists elected new Fellows
Asian Scientist: A light to guide stem cells to sites of injury