Australian Government injects MRFF funding into stem cell research

The Centre for Stem Cell Systems would like to congratulate Associate Professor Lachlan Thompson, Professor Mark Dawson and Professor Alice Pébay and their teams on receiving funding from the Federal Government’s Stem Cell Therapies Mission.

The Centre for Stem Cell Systems would like to congratulate Associate Professor Lachlan Thompson, Professor Mark Dawson and Professor Alice Pébay on receiving funding from the Federal Government’s Stem Cell Therapies Mission, to further our understanding of Parkinson’s disease, leukaemia and age-related macular degeneration and explore new stem-cell based therapies to treat these currently incurable conditions.

The grants are part of a $5.9 million dollar Australian Government investment which includes projects to advance treatments for debilitating conditions such as liver disease, epilepsy, skin loss and muscle wasting disorders.

Using stem cells to treat Parkinson’s disease

Collaborative research led by the University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health's Associate Professor Lachlan Thompson and Professor Clare Parish suggests that the use of stem cells holds promise for treating the motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease. However, it can be challenging to generate the right types of cells from stem cells in the laboratory.

In this new study, Lachlan Thompson and Clare Parish will join Professor Colin Pouton, from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, to develop new ways to improve the efficiency of generating therapeutic cells in the lab and at the same time eliminating the unwanted ones. The team ultimately aims to deliver a highly regulated therapy that is not only effective but is safe and reliable.

"This project won't deliver the cure, but I can guarantee it will bring us closer” said Associate Professor Lachlan Thompson in a recent interview with Channel 10.

Using a patient’s own stem cells to screen for age-related macular degeneration

There are no treatments to prevent or reverse vision loss from the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This is largely because it has been difficult to study or model at a cellular level the development and progression of AMD in the laboratory.

Professor Alice Pébay will join A/ Professor Kaylene Simpson (Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre) and University of Melbourne colleagues Dr Grace Lidgerwood and Professors Erica Fletcher and Robyn Guymer, who is also the Deputy Director of the Centre for Eye Research Australia, and as well as Professor Alex Hewitt (University of Tasmania) in investigating this disease.

The team will create induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) directly from patients’ cells to make “a biopsy in a dish”.

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are created from mature cells such as skin cells, taken from a patient, and differentiated into the cell types of interest. They are a powerful tool to investigate disease, as the cells grown in the dish have the same genetic background and disease profile as the patient.

The team will use these patient derived models of AMD in a dish to identify appropriate drug candidates and novel therapies for the treatment of AMD.

Identifying novel therapeutic Targets in leukaemia stem cells

Professor Mark Dawson from the University of Melbourne and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre will join A/Professor Brendon Monahan, Chief Scientific Officer at Cancer Therapeutics CRC and Dr Paul Stupple, who leads the medicinal chemistry efforts for Cancer Therapeutics CRC, to study and understand the molecular events that underpin the unique properties of leukaemia stem cells and their role in acute myeloid leukaemia, a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow.

The focus for this project is to ultimately translate their discoveries into new therapeutic opportunities that will extend the survival of patients with this aggressive and often incurable malignancy.

The team anticipate that the results will have a significant global impact as they are addressing an urgent and unmet clinical need, which is to develop novel drugs to eradicate leukaemia stem cells.

MRFF Stem Cell Therapies Mission

Funding for these projects is part of the Morrison Government’s $150 million commitment over nine years to transform stem cell research into practical treatments through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Stem Cell Therapies Mission. The Minister for Health Greg Hunt announced the new funding over the weekend, saying that “stem cell treatment is part of the future of medicine.”

Research is due to begin next month and run for two years.