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March 2019

Eyes, heart, kidney, brain & ageing: how is Australian stem cell science shaping tomorrow’s treatments?

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

Have you wondered about how stem cell science is delivering on its early promise? You can bring your questions to a public forum in Melbourne next week, where scientists from Stem Cells Australia will share their stories and take questions from the audience. Read on for details.

We’re delighted to see this week’s Australian Government announcement of funding for a new program that will focus on translating Australia’s excellent fundamental stem cell research into clinical applications. Congratulations to Melissa Little, Mark Kendall and the rest of the team involved. More below.

Another major international stem cell science conference is coming to Melbourne, and cord blood guru and one of our board members Ngaire Elwood is co-chair of the organising committee. Read on for a taste of what is on the program for ISCT 2019.

The Foundation marked the sixth anniversary of our official launch earlier this year. In our years of operation, we’ve seen Metcalf Prize winners involved in improving leukaemia treatments, unravelling the intricacies of how cell reprogramming works, and major discoveries about heart regeneration.

We look forward to opening applications for the 2019 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research in late winter.

Kind regards,

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

In this bulletin:

  • Ask your questions at a free public forum
  • Government announced new $150 million stem cell therapies initiative
  • Conference: what is the global state of play for cell and gene therapy?
  • Stem cell news from around the world

Heart regeneration, restoring eyesight, improving kidney function, and understanding the ageing brain: ask your questions at a free public forum

How are Australian stem cell scientists shaping tomorrow’s medicine?


Melbourne event: At the Frontier of Tomorrow’s Medicine
When: 5:30 pm – 7:00pm, Tuesday 19 March
Where: Village Roadshow Theatrette, State Library of Victoria Conference Centre, 179 La Trobe Street, Melbourne
Can stem cells treat corneal disease and other forms of blindness? Could they heal damaged hearts, or create heart muscle patches to help pump blood? How can big biological data be used to create new types of cells? What will regenerative medicine deliver in the next few years? And what are the ethics we need to consider?
Our friends at Stem Cells Australia are holding a public event to allow the community a way to tap into the knowledge and expertise gained through the eight years of this Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative.
This is a unique opportunity to have your questions about stem cell science answered by the experts and to learn more about what the future may hold as these discoveries move towards clinical translation.

  • Professor Melissa Little (Program Leader, Stem Cells Australia), who has led the Initiative’s shift from investigating fundamental knowledge of stem cells towards harnessing this knowledge for clinical applications.
  • Associate Professor Megan Munsie (University of Melbourne), an internationally-recognised leader in public education and community engagement in stem cell science. She made major contributions to Australian guidelines on the ethical use of stem cells.
  • Associate Professor Enzo Porrello (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute), a developmental biologist who won a 2018 Metcalf Prize for his research using stem cells to develop new ways to regenerate heart tissue following injury.
  • Professor Stephanie Watson (University of Sydney), a researcher and clinician who has led clinical trials that have already restored the eyesight of patients with a form of blindness caused by limbal stem cell deficiency.
  • Professor Christine Wells (University of Melbourne), a data scientist who studies the behaviour of stem cells, and a 2015 Metcalf Prize winner. By understanding the genes that control stem cells, her research is developing design strategies to create new types of cells, with new functions.
  • Professor Ernst Wolvetang (University of Queensland), who uses stem cells to model brain and ageing diseases in a dish. These models are used to determine the causes of disease, develop diagnostic tools and to test potential treatments.
  • Moderator: Professor Trevor Kilpatrick (Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and University of Melbourne), an internationally recognised neuroscience researcher who is interested the neurobiology of Multiple Sclerosis.

Doors open from 4:30pm. People can come early, explore a stem cell photography exhibition and meet the researchers.
For more information and to register, visit the forum’s Eventbrite page.

Government announced new $150 million stem cell therapies initiative

This week, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced a new Australian Government medical research program to turn Australia’s leading regenerative medicine and stem cell research into clinical trials.
The Australian Stem Cell Therapies Mission will support stem cell research targeting a range of conditions including heart disease, spinal cord injuries, strokes, kidney disease, and neurological conditions including dementia and Parkinson’s disease. It is supported with a funding commitment of $150 million over 10 years.
The two inaugural co-chairs of the new initiative reflect the diversity of skills, knowledge and expertise needed to address our major medical challenges:

  • Professor Melissa Little's pioneering work growing kidney ‘organoids’ from stem cells targets chronic kidney disease, a condition that affects an estimated one in 10 Australians, is one of our biggest killers, and costs the economy $4.1 billion each year.
  • Professor Mark Kendall is a rocket scientist turned medical technology inventor. His new ‘nanopatch’ vaccine delivery technology could replace the needle and syringe method we've been using for 160 years. Its use of dry vaccines eliminates the need for refrigeration, making it more practical for the developing world.

Read The Herald Sun story about the announcement.

What is the global state of play for cell and gene therapy?

If the last medical revolution was pharmacological (with chemical therapies from aspirin to ZzzQuil, a sleep aid), the next medical revolution will be biological, driven by advances in cell and gene therapies.

More than 1000 delegates from 50 countries are heading to Melbourne this May for ISCT 2019, the annual conference of the International Society for Cellular Therapy.

Delegates will hear the latest research in tissue engineering, new types of immunotherapy, cell processing, cord blood-derived treatments, gene editing, and the quality control processes needed with cell therapies.
The Presidential Plenary focuses on CAR T cell therapy, a new type of immunotherapy that uses specially altered T cells to precisely target cancer cells. It features experts from the United States, China, and Italy working on CAR T cell treatment avenues for the blood cancer acute myeloid leukemia, neuroblastoma (the most common solid tumour in children under five years old), and other types of solid tumour.
ISCT 2019 follows last year’s huge 2018 International Society for Stem Cell Research annual meeting, which was also held in Melbourne. These two international scientific events are helping cement Melbourne and Australia as centres of excellence for research in regenerative medicine and clinical trials.
ISCT 2019 will be held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from 29 May to 1 June, and is a great opportunity for Australian scientists in these and related fields to hear from and network with the world leaders in gene and cell therapies. More information:

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 News: AIDS cure hope emerges following stem cell procedure with HIV patient
EurekAlert: Scientists rejuvenate stem cells in the aging brain of mice. Paper.
ABC News: 3D printed ears could help children with ear deformities avoid complex surgery
Washington Post: ‘Miraculous’ stem cell therapy has sickened people in five states
The Niche: Nature yanks article that was actually advertisement on controversial stem cells
Health (journal): The politics of evidence in online illness narratives: An analysis of crowdfunding for purported stem cell treatments
Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News: CRISPR drapes invisibility cloak over stem cells
Medical News Today: New stem cells could be 'universally transplanted'. Paper.
LA Times: A warning from the Reeve Foundation about unproven stem-cell therapies
Stem Cell Reports (Journal): Women in Stem Cell Science: Part II
ScienceDaily: In vitro grafts increase blood flow in infarcted rat hearts. Paper.
The Conversation (USA): Stem cell treatments for arthritic knees are unproven, expensive and potentially dangerous
LA Times: A stem cell clinic touts its links with leading scientists. Some say they have no such connections
The Conversation (UK): Cancer growth in the body could originate from a single cell – target it to revolutionise treatment