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May 2018

Eyes, heart, skin, kidneys & blood: what’s the state of play with stem cell research?

World leaders in stem cell research will be in Melbourne later this month for the international stem cell conference. We’ll be there tweeting highlights, and also supporting a public forum separating stem cell facts from fiction.

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

Nearly 3,000 delegates are headed to Australia for the International Society for Stem Cell Research 2018 Annual Meeting (ISSCR 2018), in Melbourne from 20 to 23 June. 

They will share the latest science, present fundamental stem cell and disease research, provide updates on the progress of new treatments towards the clinic, and discuss the challenges of managing patients’ hopes and unethical treatment marketing. 

ISSCR 2018 comes at a time when governments around the world are cracking down on rogue clinics, and Australia is bringing in new regulations to protect patients.

We want to help people sort the facts from the fiction. We’re supporting a free public forum in the lead up to ISSCR 2018 to bring the scientists to the people. Come to the event and bring your questions. More below.

Congratulations to the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research, the Melbourne Convention Bureau and a coalition of medical research organisations on the success of their campaign over the past six years to win this influential event for Melbourne and Australia.  

We will be tweeting highlights from ISSCR 2018. You can follow us on Twitter at @AusStemCell and the meeting organiser at @ISSCR. Follow the conversation through the hashtag #ISSCR2018

If you’re presenting some exciting science at ISSCR 2018, let us know—email [email protected].

Our next bulletin will be a special edition at the end of the month, sharing some of the highlights from ISSCR 2018. Then, in early July, the 2018 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Science will open for applications, offering two $50,000 prizes for Australia’s emerging leaders in stem cell research.

The Metcalf Prizes, our travel grants for young researchers attending conferences, and our public education events are all made possible thanks to the generosity of our donors. With the end of financial year around the corner, we invite you to make a tax-deductible donation to help us continue this work. Visit our website to donate securely online.

Kind regards,

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

In this bulletin:

What will stem cell research offer for treating eye, heart, skin, kidney and blood disorders?

Ask your questions at a free public forum

Melbourne event: Stem Cell Research - Now and in the Future
When: 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm, Monday 18 June
Where: Deakin Edge at Federation Square, Swanston Street, Melbourne


Can stem cells cure blindness? Could they heal broken hearts after heart attacks? Why do clinical trials matter? What treatments can we have confidence in and which are over-hyped? And what will regenerative medicine deliver in the next few years?
The Foundation is supporting a free public forum in conjunction with ISSCR 2018 so that people can have their stem cell medicine questions answered by qualified experts.
“This is an opportunity for people to ask the those working at the coalface of stem cell research what they do and why,” says forum organiser and moderator Megan Munsie, a stem cell researcher at the University of Melbourne and head of the Education, Ethics, Law and Community Awareness Unit at Stem Cells Australia
Cardiologist and researcher James Chong, who was one of our 2016 Metcalf Prize winners, is one of the forum’s speakers. As a physician, he is very familiar with the hopes, fears and questions his patients often have. He’s looking forward to sharing his passion for stem cell science at the forum.
“I hope to inform people about this wonderful technology. I want to help them understand how it may benefit patients with heart disease and the hope this brings, but also that there are many steps we need to take to bring about a realistic, safe and enduring treatment,” says James.
The panellists cover five areas of the human body where stem cells have great potential to help researchers or treat diseases—blood and bone marrow, skin, eyes, heart and kidney:

  • Susie Nilsson (CSIRO and the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University) will discuss how blood stem cells are already saving lives, and where improvements are being made.
  • Pritinder Kaur (Curtin University) will explore skin stem cells, optimising their use in wound healing and how they are used to study skin conditions.
  • Michael O'Connor (Western Sydney University) will talk about eye diseases and the potential for stem cell therapies for cataracts, damaged corneas and macular degeneration.
  • James Chong (The Westmead Institute and University of Sydney) will talk about how stem cells become medicine and his work exploring the potential to regrow cardiac cells after a heart attack.
  • Melissa Little (Murdoch Children's Research Institute and University of Melbourne) will talk about growing kidney tissue in the lab to study kidney conditions and improve diagnosis and treatments.

Doors open from 4:00pm. People can come early and explore the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research Stem Cell Stories photography exhibition and meet the researchers.
For more information and to register, visit the forum’s Eventbrite page.

A life in science: student Q&A with 2017 Australian of the Year Alan Mackay-Sim 

Science legend meets the toughest audience—kids and teenagers—at the World Science Festival Brisbane

Alan Mackay-Sim answers questions

Award winning stem cell scientist Alan Mackay-Sim has had a life filled with curiosity, science, a variety of hobbies, and occasional swearing!
In March this year, Alan talked with students at the World Science Festival Brisbane. Here are some of the highlights.
Sanchit (Year 8) How was your school and university life? What were your aspirations and interests as a student?
Alan: I love to learn. From a very early age I wondered how the body works, and how the brain controls the hands to do this, that and the other, and so on. That’s what I did on the academic side. Outside that, I played football, sang in the choir, acted in plays, ran in the athletics carnivals and lapped it all up.
When I got to university I still studied hard, but also danced a lot and listened to a lot of music and enjoyed university life.
Host: If we could interview 5-year-old Alan and ask what he wanted to be when he grew up, what would he have said?

Alan and students

Alan Mackay-Sim with students at the 2018 World Science Festival Brisbane

Alan: A fireman. It was when I was 8 or ten that I got interested in the body.

Towards the end of school, I was heavily interested in the brain and I wanted to contribute to people’s health. So, I chose science as a career.

Host: Tell us about the nose cells you’re interested in.

Alan: In the nose we have stem cells. As we breath in, we’re breathing in nasty chemicals, viruses and bacteria. The sensory cells die, partly as a response to protect ourselves, because we have a direct line from the nose to the brain. So, the cells die, and the stem cells are there to replace them.

Olfactory ensheathing cells are made from the stem cells in the nose, and they are the support cells for the nerves. Someone had the idea that maybe those cells could help the nerve cells regrow after being cut in the spinal cord. This turned out to be true.

Read the full story with more student questions and answers online.

Stem cell news from around the world

Between newsletters, we share stem cell news on social media:

Here are a few of the stories we’ve shared recently:
Cosmos magazine: Mechanics of pesticide-Parkinson’s link revealed. Paper.
Forbes: Why exercising your legs could result in a healthier brain. Paper.
Herald Sun: (subscribers only) Cancer-killing immunotherapy to become more accessible.
Nature: Hybrid human–chicken embryos illuminate key developmental milestone.
The Scientist: Animals’ embryonic organizer now discovered in human cells. Paper.
The Australian: Big brains devise medical solutions.
Futurism: Robots can grow humanoid mini-organs from stem cells faster and better than people. Paper.

Cosmos magazine: Warning over crowdsourced stem cell schemes. Paper.
Gizmodo: The FDA is taking two shady stem cell clinics to court.
ABC Landline: Is the future of meat fake and slaughter-free?
Science Daily: How some liver cells switch identities to build missing plumbing. Paper.
Discover magazine: How to study embryos, no embryo required. Paper.
The Atlantic: What's wrong with growing blobs of brain tissue?