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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.

Can stem cells make drugs to stop osteoarthritis? | 2023 Metcalf Prize winner: Jiao Jiao Li, University of Technology Sydney

Dr Jiao Jiao Li plans to use stem cells as biofactories to make drugs to reduce inflammation and encourage repair in painful osteoarthritic joints. Osteoarthritis is a hugely debilitating joint disease with few treatment options.  Injecting stem cells to repair damaged joints has shown inconsistent and poor long-term results and the potential for adverse side effects.
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Stomach stem cells behaving badly | 2023 Metcalf Prize winner: Dustin Flanagan, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute

People diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer have a less than 10 per cent chance of surviving more than 5 years. Dr Dustin Flanagan wants to boost that survival rate by understanding why some deviant stomach stem cells turn cancerous. This knowledge will help in the development of drugs to bring these misbehaving cells back to normal, healthy function.
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Using stem cells to give sight | 2022 Metcalf Prize winner: Anai Gonzalez-Cordero, Children’s Medical Research Institute

Dr Anai Gonzalez-Cordero's research aims to restore sight in people with inherited retinal diseases, by repairing or replacing damaged photoreceptor (light-sensing) cells in the eye.   She has already shown that she can grow cultures of healthy photoreceptor cells in a dish in the lab and then use the cells replace the defective cells and restore sight in laboratory models of hereditary blindness. And she has shown that gene therapy can repair diseased human retinal cells grown in the lab as ‘mini-organs’ (or ‘organoids’), providing them with normal light-sensing ability. 
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Controlling rogue blood stem cells | 2022 Metcalf Prize winner: Ashley Ng, WEHI

Dr Ashley Ng is revealing how blood stem cells are controlled, and how they sometime go rogue, leading to blood cancers. He has discovered how a protein known as ‘ERG’ underpins healthy development of blood cells, and how it also plays a role in Down syndrome-associated leukaemia and a range of other blood cancers. As a researcher at WEHI and a clinician at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter Mac, Ashley will use his $55,000 Metcalf Prize to advance his ideas from the laboratory into treatments for blood and blood cancer diseases.
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Stem cell treatment for healing broken hearts | 2016 Metcalf Prize winner: 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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More ‘good cells’, safer treatments for leukaemia patients | 2021 Metcalf Prize winner: Siok Tey, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital

Associate Professor Siok Tey is researching treatments that will improve the survival and quality of life for her patients with leukaemia or other blood cancers. “Bone marrow transplantation is an important form of treatment for blood cancers, but it cures only two-thirds of patients,” says Siok, a clinician researcher at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.
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Making a virtual human cell | 2021 Metcalf Prize winner: Pengyi Yang, Children's Medical Research Institute and The University of Sydney

Dr Pengyi Yang plans to transform stem cell research.  “Today’s stem cell treatments have been the product of trial and error. My virtual stem cell will allow us to understand what’s happening inside a single stem cell that makes it decide what type of cell it will become, be it hair, skin, muscle, nerve, blood or other.”
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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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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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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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