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November 2018

Newborn babies offer clues to healing hearts, and why do some cancer cells get away? – Metcalf Prize winners announced

I’m delighted to announce that two brilliant young researchers are the winners of this year’s Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research.

Heather Lee is analysing individual cancer cells to understand how some survive therapy. Her research ultimately aims to prevent relapse and lift survival rates for leukemia.

Enzo Porrello is exploring newborn heart development to develop heart attack drugs and engineer ‘artificial pumps’ from patient stem cells.


Dr Heather Lee of the University of Newcastle and Associate Professor Enzo Porrello of the University of Melbourne will formally receive their Prizes, presented to them by Professor Richard Larkins AO, at a special ceremony in Melbourne later this month.

Heather and Enzo were selected from an outstanding group of applicants, reflecting Australia’s continuing strength in stem cell research.

Read on to find out more about their research and achievements.

We’ve been able to award these two $50,000 prizes thanks to the generosity of our supporters. In this bulletin, we share two stories of very different donors. Read on for more.

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


In this bulletin:

  • Leukaemia: studying the cancer cells that get away
  • Newborn babies offer clues for healing hearts
  • From junior footy teams to families: heart-felt thank you to our donors
  • Stem cell news from around the world

Leukaemia: studying the cancer cells that get away 

Dr Heather Lee is analysing individual cancer cells to understand how some survive therapy. Her research ultimately aims to prevent relapse and lift survival rates for leukemia.
 
Heather invented a way to study the genetics of individual cells more closely that will help her find out why some cancer cells are treatable, and others go rogue. With her new technique, she can see the chemical ‘flags’ that tell the cell how to interpret its genetic code. At the same time, she can watch how those instructions are—or aren’t—carried out.
 
Heather and other scientists use the technique to study what makes rogue cancer cells different at a genetic level.
 
Heather is now studying cells from patients with acute myeloid leukaemia to see how just a few cells can resist treatment and go on to cause a fatal relapse. She hopes this will lead to new, more effective drug treatments for this devastating disease.
 
Dr Heather Lee is a Cancer Institute NSW Fellow at Hunter Medical Research Institute and the University of Newcastle.
 
In recognition of her leadership in stem cell research, Heather Lee has received one of two $50,000 Metcalf Prizes from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.
 
Read Heather’s full profile online.
 
Cancer researcher Dr Heather Lee awarded Metcalf Prize for stem-cell science: read Newcastle Herald’s story about Heather’s research.


Newborn babies offer clues for healing hearts

For a few short days after birth, the heart can regenerate damaged tissue. Associate Professor Enzo Porrello wants to understand why this ability turns off, so that he and colleagues can switch it back on to heal broken hearts.
 
Understanding regeneration could lead to new treatments for different types of heart disease, the world’s biggest killer, from birth defects to heart attacks late in life.
 
“I recently showed that the hearts of newborn mice can regenerate after a heart attack,” Enzo says. “But this self-healing ability rapidly diminishes in the days after birth.”
 
Enzo thinks there is a similar capacity in humans. He is using stem cells to recreate the development of the heart in the lab to study the processes and the genes involved in turning self-healing on and off.
 
He wants to develop drugs that can stimulate heart muscle cells to rebuild after a heart attack.
 
He is also part of a new consortium that aims to engineer new working heart tissue to treat children with heart disease, made from their own stem cells.
 
Associate Professor Enzo Porrello is Group Leader of Cardiac Regeneration at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne.
 
In recognition of his leadership in stem cell research, Enzo Porrello has received one of two $50,000 Metcalf Prizes from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.
 
Read Enzo’s full profile online.
 
Scientists hope to use newborns’ stem cells to mend broken hearts: read The Herald Sun’s story about Enzo’s work.
 
The Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research are named for the late Professor Donald Metcalf, AC. 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.


From junior footy teams to families: heart-felt thank you to our donors

When the Manor Lakes ‘Storm’ Football Club under 12s and their families aren’t kicking goals and supporting each other on the field, they’re applying their team spirit to craft, cake-making and fundraising.
 
When Jai, the younger brother of team player Callum, was diagnosed with a heart condition, the club asked the family what they could do to offer support. The boys’ mother Kim suggested they raise funds for stem cell research. She chose the Foundation to receive the benefits of their efforts.
 
They held a cake and craft stall and a raffle, raising $334.15 for stem cell science. This will help our ongoing work, such as awarding the Metcalf Prizes. We will take great pleasure in being able to tell the family about newly minted Metcalf Prize winner Enzo Porrello whose research is specifically targeting congenital heart disease as well as other heart conditions.

 

A legacy that lives on
 

I was deeply moved to meet Mrs Gwendoline Johns recently. She is the sister of the late Gordon Lapham (pictured), who died a few years ago after a serious illness.
 
During his illness, Gordon researched treatments that are currently unavailable or that may have great potential in the future. He became interested in stem cell science and came across our Foundation through his own research.
 
In his will, he left significant bequests to the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia as well as the Heart Foundation. I told Mrs Johns about our grants program that brings student and early career researchers to major scientific conferences, and our hope that this investment in the next generation of Australian stem cell scientists will bring the discoveries Gordon hoped for. The Lapham Estate will support this investment in future years.
 
Thank you to the family of Gordon Lapham and the Manor Lakes ‘Storm’ champions.
 
People who want to donate to our ongoing work can do so securely online at 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:
 
Washington Post: Lab-grown brain bits open windows to the mind—and a maze of ethical dilemmas
 
The Niche: Placebo effect & “the fade” after stem cell clinic shots
 
Sci News: Scientists reverse congenital blindness in mice. Paper.
 
Eureka Alert: New method grows brain cells from stem cells quickly and efficiently. Paper.
 
The Niche: Arthritis patient with pain’s email on stem cell clinic & my answer
 
John Hopkins University: Bioengineers borrow from electronics industry to get stem cells to shape up. Paper.
 
Eureka Alert: This matrix delivers healing stem cells to injured elderly muscles. Paper.
 
Biopharma Reporter: Japanese scientists conduct first clinical trial for Parkinson’s using iPS cells
 
ABC Radio National ‘The Health Report’: Stem cell treatment for premature babies shown to be safe
 
The Conversation: Stem cell transplants to be used in treating Crohn’s disease


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