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June 2024

Event puts women’s health in the spotlight; understanding sex determination

Find out how stem cells are changing women’s health, potentially making endometriosis easier to diagnose, treating vaginal birth injury, and improving breast cancer treatment.

Hear about the latest research and ask your own questions at a free online event Stem Cells and Women’s Health on 27 June. See below for details.

Do you know an exceptional mid-career stem cell researcher? Applications will open for two $60,000 Metcalf Prizes in a few weeks. Read on for more about three past Metcalf Prize winners and their work on cancer, understanding breast changes, and mending broken hearts with stem cells.

We’re working with the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research (ASSCR) to provide grants for young researchers to attend this year’s scientific meeting in November in Adelaide. Apply or encourage your junior colleagues to apply. Read on for details.

Find out how we’re supporting Melbourne researcher Katie Ayers’ work to identify the genes involved in variations of sex development, some of which are linked to health problems such as increased cancer risk, intellectual disability, or infertility. More below.

Finally, a newborn baby has received cell therapy using his own umbilical cord blood to treat a stroke he had in the womb. He’s the first participant in a clinical trial led by Melbourne clinician-scientist Atul Malhotra, whose research we’ve supported.

Catch up this and other news stories, including how ‘mini-organs’ have been grown in the lab from cells shed by foetuses in womb, why police in the UK are investigating a dubious stem cell autism cure claim, and local news that epigenetics leader and past Metcalf Prize winner Jose Polo has been elected to the Australian Academy of Science. These and other stories from around the world are included in our regular round-up of stem cell news.

Kind regards,

Dr Graeme L Blackman AO

Chairman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

In this bulletin:

WEBINAR EVENT: Stem Cells and Women’s Health

Hear the latest science and bring your questions to a free online event at 7:00pm AEST Thursday 27 June 2024.

  • How is stem cell science changing our understanding of endometriosis? Why does it take so long for women to be diagnosed?
  • What causes breast cancer? How is it treated?
  • Can the damage to the pelvic floor from childbirth be repaired?
  • What can we reasonably hope for in the future?

Three of Australia’s top stem cell researchers will join a live online audience to answer these questions and more in the webinar event Future Medicine: Stem Cells and Women’s Health.

Featuring speakers:

Register to attend via Humanitix:

This event provides an opportunity to meet the scientists working at the forefront of women’s health and medical research. Please spread the word to friends and colleagues who might be interested.

Nominate for 2 x $60,000 Metcalf Prizes… opening soon

Each year we award two $60,000 prizes to support the field’s rising stars and set them up for future success. And it’s working!

Many past prize recipients have gone on to win significant government and philanthropic grants such as:

  • How embryos and cancer cells grow: the year after winning a 2020 Metcalf Prize, molecular biologist Melanie Eckersley-Maslin was awarded an $8 million Snow Fellowship to study how cancer progresses.
  • Researching stem cell treatment for healing broken hearts: cardiologist and 2016 Metcalf Prize winner James Chong was awarded $4.9 million by the Medical Research Future Fund 2020 Stem Cell Mission for his work, which will allow clinical trials to go ahead.
  • How stem cells and calcium affect breast function: in 2020, mammary biologist and 2019 Metcalf winner Felicity Davis received a grant of DKK 25 million (AUD $5.5 million) from the Novo Nordisk Foundation to continue her work investigating how breasts change through life.

The Prizes are awarded to post-doctoral researchers who have completed their PhD or MD (research-based) within the past 5-10 years. They are awarded for intellectual merit, professional esteem, leadership, and their potential to have continuing impact on stem cell research in Australia.

Do you fit the bill? Or do you know someone who deserves this opportunity and the recognition? Encourage them to apply. We know from experience that some winners applied only after receiving encouragement from their peers.

Find out more about the prizes.

See the full list of past winners.

ASSCR Meeting 2024: from roots to remedies in Adelaide in November

Now is the time to apply for grants and submit abstracts.

The ASSCR 2024 Annual Meeting will take place on 11 – 13 November at the National Wine Centre of Australia in the heart of Adelaide.

The Foundation is again supporting a grants and awards program, sponsoring ASSCR member PhD students and early career researchers to attend and present their research, and awarding prizes for the best oral and poster presentations.

Apply or encourage your junior colleagues to apply for the grants:

The program was created to support the next generation of stem cell researchers early in their careers, kickstart their network building, and give them opportunities to present their work. Hundreds of grants have been awarded since it started in 2013.

For example, Lincon Stamp, who researches enteric (intestine-related) nervous system stem cells, was one of our travel grant recipients in 2014, winning the conference’s award for top oral presentation from an early career researcher. Ten years on, he’s set to become the next ASSCR President!

The organising committee is also calling for abstracts for the conference. The deadline for both grant applications and abstract submissions is 2 August 2024.

More information:

Register for ISSCR 2024: 10 – 13 July in Hamburg, Germany

Join more than 4000 scientists from around the globe for stem cell science’s premier international conference.

Plenary speakers including the neuroscientist who discovered that glial cells are neural stem cells in the developing mammalian brain, an expert in the metabolic and systemic control of stem cell development, and the co-founder and principal leader of the Human Cell Atlas initiative.

See the full program and register online at:

Making 3D models of how sex development occurs in the womb

Human sex characteristics develop in the womb. About one in 100 babies are born with variations, some of which are linked to health problems such as increased cancer risk, heart disease, osteoporosis, intellectual disability, or infertility.

Reproductive biologist Associate Professor Katie Ayers is working to identify the genes involved in these variations. She and her team are growing 3D models of developing gonads engineered from stem cells in the lab to study variations in sex development and the role of genetics.

The Foundation is backing her research through its Matched Funding Program in collaboration with the Cybec Foundation.

About one in 4,500 children are born with genitals that are of neither typical female nor typical male appearance. Uncertainty about gender can carry profound physical and mental health consequences for the child and family. Failure of testes development is another issue, with a prevalence of one in 20,000.

In many cases, having a correct genetic diagnosis can help the young person and their family to understand differences in their gonadal and genital development and inform decisions during their clinical care. Currently, however, a genetic cause can only confidently be found in around 40 per cent of cases, leaving many affected individuals and families facing uncertainty and possibly invasive testing.

Katie’s research group at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) aims to improve this by working with families and clinicians at the Royal Children’s Hospital and other international centres to find underlying genetic causes.

“Our goal is to provide doctors, affected individuals and families with the clearest possible picture, so they can make informed decisions,” says Katie.

Read full story on our 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:

Nine News: Treatment helps babies who suffer strokes in the womb recover.

Live Science: In a 1st, scientist grow mini brains with functional blood-brain barriers | Live Science. Paper.

University of Adelaide: Epigenetics leader Professor Jose Polo feted with fellowship.

ISCT Global: Patient Safety in Cell & Gene Therapies: Guidelines and Resources launched.

Neuroscience News: Mini-brains from stem cells provide hope for Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Denver Post: Colorado hospitals detect 3 cases of infections linked to stem-cell treatments received in Mexico.

BBC: Met investigates 'stem-cell autism cure' claim.

The Scientist: Low intracellular iron levels may keep blood stem cells young.

Science Daily: Scientists grow 'mini kidneys,' revealing new insights into metabolic defects and potential therapy for polycystic kidney disease. Paper.

The Rockefeller University: Stem cell model offers first glimpse of early human development. Paper.

ABC News (USA): Paralyzed man who can walk again shows potential benefit of stem cell therapy. Paper.

Science: Organoids: Today’s research tool, tomorrow’s organ transplant solution.

The Guardian:  Scientists grow ‘mini-organs’ from cells shed by foetuses in womb. Paper.

Cosmos Magazine: Stem cells from amniocentesis used to grow organoids. More expert reaction.

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