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Scientists and projects we've funded

The National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia strategically invests funds to support Australian medical research. 

  • The Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research support promising scientists at the crucial mid-career stage.
  • Our Matched Funding Program aims to help Australian stem cell researchers to fast-track potential therapies to clinical trials.

Thanks to the generosity of donors, the scientists we've supported are improving our understanding of and developing treatments for conditions including type 1 diabetes, leukaemia and other cancers, heart failure, multiple sclerosis, debilitating bone and cartilage disorders, inherited eye diseases, and more. Read more about the scientists we've supported below.

How embryos and cancer cells grow | 2020 Metcalf Prize winner: Melanie Eckersley-Maslin, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Proteins which control the growth of cells in embryos could teach us how to stop the uncontrolled growth of cells that is the hallmark of cancer, thanks to work by molecular biologist Dr Melanie Eckersley-Maslin. Vital to normal development in early life, these molecules may later play a role in the early stages of cancer or help it spread. If so, we could target them therapeutically and block or slow progression of the disease.
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Genes may hold key to leukaemia survival | 2020 Metcalf Prize winner: Steven Lane, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute

Clinical haematologist Associate Professor Steven Lane wants to lift the survival rates of his leukaemia patients. He thinks the key could lie in the genetic fingerprints of the blood cancer stem cells that proliferate the disease. Steven is studying how these cells become resistant to treatment through genetic changes. He will use the knowledge to develop more effective and tailored therapies, both to prevent and treat potentially fatal relapses.
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Hijacking viruses to save sight | Tom Edwards, Centre for Eye Research Australia

Dr Tom Edwards wants to use the infectious power of viruses to develop cures for blinding eye disease using gene therapy. More than 16,000 Australians live with an inherited retinal disease (IRD). One type, retinitis pigmentosa, is the leading cause of blindness in the working-age population. Currently, there are no cures or treatments.
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Better broken bone-mending | Mike Doran, Queensland University of Technology

A new regenerative medicine treatment to help mend broken bones is the first of four projects chosen to receive donations through the Foundation’s 2020 Matched Funding Program. Associate Professor Mike Doran from Queensland University of Technology is exploring the potential of special cells taken from placentas to repair non-union bone fractures.
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How stem cells and calcium affect breast function | 2019 Metcalf Prize winner: Felicity Davis, Mater Research Institute, University of Queensland

Mammary biologist Dr Felicity Davis is investigating how breasts change through life: how they develop during puberty, alter during pregnancy and change back after breastfeeding is complete. A scientist at the University of Queensland’s Mater Research Institute, she is examining the role stem cells play in this remarkable tissue plasticity.
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Stem cell treatment for healing broken hearts | James Chong, Westmead Institute for Medical Research and The University of Sydney

Cardiologist and researcher Associate Professor James Chong has already used human stem cells to repair the damaged hearts of other large primates — a world first.  The achievement and his subsequent work won him a 2016 Metcalf Prize for Stem Cell Research. Now he’s part way through a five-year project that aims to bring the therapy to a clinical trial with patients who have had heart attacks.
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A new hope for type 1 diabetes | Bernie Tuch, Australian Foundation for Diabetes Research

The unlikely combination of stem cells and seaweed are providing a novel approach for treating type 1 diabetes.  Type 1 diabetes is currently incurable, can be life-threatening, and, unlike type 2, can't be prevented through better diet and lifestyle choices. In 2015, the disease claimed 800 Australian lives. Professor Bernie Tuch has been searching for a cure for more than 40 years. He’s getting close to it with the help of the unlikely combination of stem cells and seaweed.
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Studying the leukaemia cells that get away | 2018 Metcalf Prize winner: Heather Lee, Hunter Medical Research Institute, University of Newcastle

Researcher reveals new ways to catch the killer cells 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 leukaemia. 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.
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Newborn babies offer clues for healing hearts | 2018 Metcalf Prize winner: Enzo Porrello, Murdoch Children's Research Institute, University of Melbourne

For a few short days after birth, the heart can regenerate damaged tissue. 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.
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How we and our stem cells get old | 2017 Metcalf Prize winner: Jessica Mar, Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, University of Queensland

Jessica Mar is analysing stem cells to discover the changes that influence ageing. We all started life as a stem cell. Throughout our lives, stem cells repair and replace our tissues, but as we age they stop working as well. Understanding how this decline occurs is fundamental to understanding—and influencing—how we age. Jessica's research profile from University of Queensland. Jessica is studying ageing stem cell models with collaborators around Australia to answer these questions. She is also collaborating on longevity research internationally, and will work with two study populations, ‘super-centenarians’ in Japan who live to 110 years or more, and a group of Ashkenazi Jews who are aged 95 years and older.
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Building a blood cancer treatment from the ground up | 2017 Metcalf Prize winner: Mark Dawson, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Mark Dawson has helped build a new drug to fight an aggressive form of blood cancer. He discovered the basic science of gene expression in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), helped develop a drug to block that action, and is leading an international clinical trial to test it. Mark's research profile from Peter MacCallum Cencer Centre.
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Making cancer treatment less aggressive | 2016 Metcalf Prize winner: Tracy Heng, Monash University

Tracy Heng wants to make cancer treatment gentler and more effective for elderly patients with blood cancer and other blood disorders. “Bone marrow transplants have transformed survival rates for blood cancers. They replace a diseased blood system with healthy blood-forming cells, but first, doctors have to wipe out a patient’s immune system, which takes a big toll on elderly patients. My goal is to change that,” says Tracy. Tracy's research profile from Monash University.
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Stem cells healing broken hearts | 2016 Metcalf Prize winner: James Chong, Westmead Institute for Medical Research and The University of Sydney

James Chong has two starters in the race to develop stem cell therapies for heart failure as viable alternatives to heart transplants. His research is exploring both the potential for transplanted stem cells to regenerate new heart tissue and how to repair a patient’s heart by rejuvenating their own heart stem cells. James' research profile from University of Sydney.
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Stem cell encyclopaedia fast tracks discoveries | 2015 Metcalf Prize winner: Christine Wells, University of Queensland

An online encyclopaedia created by Christine Wells has led to the discovery of a new kind of stem cell. And that’s just the beginning. Christine’s small Brisbane team has created a resource that the global stem cell research community is using to rapidly share knowledge and fast track stem cell discoveries. Professor Wells has since moved to Victoria to start and lead the University of Melbourne's new Centre for Stem Cell Systems. Read her academic profile or watch a video from Stem Cells Australia about her work:
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Teaching stem cells to forget their past | 2015 Metcalf Prize winner: Ryan Lister, Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research

Ryan Lister has discovered how adult stem cells retain a memory of what they once were. He believes he can make them forget their past lives, as for example skin cells, so their history doesn’t limit their new potential to become brain, heart, liver, blood and other cells. Ryan's research profile from Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.
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