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October 2023

Heart cells, eye cells and brain cells growing in dishes. Find out why.

Grow heart cells together in a petri dish and they can start beating. They know what to do. Now they’re being used find drugs to heal the heart.

Eye cells are being grown to test gene therapies for blindness. Human brain cells growing together make connections. They are revealing how the brain ages, and learning to play Pong!

Scientists call these clusters of cells ‘organoids’. You can find out how these lab-grown models of organs, made from stem cells, are being used to pave the way for new treatments for many diseases.

Join us at a free public, livestreamed event Stem Cells and Organoids in Sydney on 14 November. Hear about the latest research from experts and ask your own questions. See below for details.

It’s the latest in our series of public events. Our August forum is available online: Future Medicine: Stem Cells and Cancer. We heard from three scientists working on leukaemia, skin cancers, and the use of stem cell-rich cord blood in treatment. Watch at our website.

Serious skin wounds often need skin flaps to be removed from another part of your body – creating another wound! Melbourne researcher Associate Professor Geraldine Mitchell and her team are growing skin flaps from your own stem cells. It could revolutionise skin wound repair. Read on to find out more about this research, which we’re helping to fund, thanks to the generosity of our donors.

Also in this newsletter: treating a damaged eye with stem cells from its healthy pair, how placental cells could treat heart attacks, two-pronged immunotherapy for cancer, and other stem cell news from around the world.

Kind regards,

Dr Graeme L Blackman AO

Chairman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

In this bulletin:

Can lab-grown eye tissue test gene therapies for blindness?

Could models of muscle help us understanding heart problems?

Sydney event to explore the science

Organoids event

Bring your questions to a free public event at 5.30pm Tuesday 14 November at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

  • Australian researchers are growing thousands of beating heart tissue clusters in the lab. They’re used to find drug treatment for heart attack patients.
  • In Sydney, eye tissue grown from patient stem cells is helping in the development of treatments for inherited eye diseases.
  • Melbourne scientists developed a neural system combining 800,000 living brain cells, which was able to demonstrate intelligence-like behaviour by learning to play Pong!

Researchers call these models of organs made from stem cells ‘organoids’. They are paving the way for new or more targeted treatments for inherited eye diseases, brain disorders, certain types of cancer, and more.

Organoids, such as heart or kidney organoids, can be made from healthy stem cells and are used to study normal organ development or to test drugs in living, functional tissues.

‘Disease in a dish’ organoids recreate a condition in the lab. They are either grown from stem cells derived from patient biopsies or from stem cells engineered to have a specific gene defect. They’re shedding light on poorly understood diseases and helping to find and test new treatments.

Join us at Stem Cells and Organoids - a free public event in Sydney, which will be livestreamed.

You’ll hear from a panel of researchers and clinicians sharing their expertise on:

  • lab-grown tumours for testing cancer treatments: Professor Helen Abud, Monash University
  • blindness and deafness: Dr Anai Gonzalez Cordero, Children’s Medical Research Institute, Sydney.
  • heart and muscle conditions: Dr Richard Mills, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, reNEW Melbourne.
  • brain conditions: Associate Professor Silvia Velasco, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, reNEW Melbourne.
  • ethical and legal implications of emerging technologies: Professor Di Nicol, University of Tasmania.

This forum will be hosted by Foundation director and a leader in the societal implications of stem cell science and its clinical translation Professor Megan Munsie, from University of Melbourne, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and reNEW Melbourne.

When: Tuesday 14 November 2023, 5:30 - 7pm AEDT

Where: Australian National Maritime Museum, 2 Murray Street Sydney, NSW 2000.

Pre-event exhibition and science education opportunity

Doors open at 4:30pm with a captivating stem cell photography exhibition and roving early career scientists in the foyer. Students and the broader public can meet and mingle with junior investigators and find out about university courses and careers in science and biomedical research.

This event is hosted by the Australasian Society of Stem Cell Research and supported by the Foundation as part of our mission to provide community education. It is also proudly supported by the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine, reNEW.

Register via Eventbrite.

How stem cells are being used to study and treat cancer

Cancer video

  • How stem cells are being used to study and treat cancer
  • What kinds of cancer can be treated with stem cell transplants?
  • How is umbilical cord blood used to treat some types of cancer?
  • How is stem cell science changing our understanding of how cells go rogue, leading to conditions like skin cancer or leukaemia?
  • What can we reasonably hope for in the future?

In August we discussed these questions and more with our panel for the webinar – Future Medicine: Stem cells and Cancer, with:

  • Associate Professor Ngaire Elwood, who spoke about the use of cord blood for cellular therapies for the treatment of cancer, leukaemia and other disorders
  • Dr Ashley Ng on how blood stem cells are controlled, and how they sometime go rogue, leading to blood cancers
  • Professor Mark Shackleton, who works with melanoma and other skin cancers.

Watch the recording of the webinar.

Building human skin and blood vessels for wound repair

Vascular Biology Group Lab Members: (left to right) Ms Yi-wen Gerrand, A/P Geraldine Mitchell, Dr Anne Kong and Dr Kiryu Yap

Melbourne researcher Associate Professor Geraldine Mitchell is growing skin flaps from stem cells to create a new, safer, and less painful way to repair dangerous skin wounds.

The Foundation is supporting her research through its Matched Funding Program to prepare for preclinical trials.

Every year, 60,000 Australian patients have surgery to attach a healthy piece of skin tissue – known as a skin flap – over an area of damage resulting from a diabetic wound, skin cancer removal, a traumatic injury, or another cause.

“Skin flap surgery is in the top 20 of all operations completed in private and public hospitals in Australia, but it’s a tricky procedure that requires long stays in hospital and can lead to high complication rates for patients,” said Geraldine, Vascular Biology Group Co-Leader at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research.

Read more.

Stem cell news from around the world

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

Here are some stories we’ve shared recently:

Scientific American: Newfound stem cell might explain how breast cancer spreads to the spine.

SBS News: Stem cell research reveals the earliest stages of a human life.

The Guardian: ‘Complete’ models of human embryos created from stem cells in lab.

Medical Xpress: Gene-tweaked stem cells offer hope against sickle cell disease.

Science: Two-pronged immunotherapy approach could treat most blood cancers.

Smithsonian Magazine: Scientists treat severe injuries in one eye with stem cells from the other.

New Scientist: Cells from discarded placentas may help to treat heart attacks.

Financial Review: This Australian discovery is set to change stem cell therapy.

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