2016 Metcalf Prize Winners Announced

27 July 2016
Executive Officer of the Foundation Julia Mason, Professor Peter Doherty, Dr Tracy Heng, Chairman of the Foundation Dr Graeme Blackman, and Dr James Chong (Courtesy of NSCFA)
The National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia has awarded their 2016 Metcalf Prize to two brilliant young researchers -who are focused on using stem cells to heal broken hearts and making cancer treatment less aggressive and more effective.

Dr James Chong has two starters in the race to develop stem cell therapies for damaged hearts. James is a cardiologist and researcher at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Sydney.

Dr Tracy Heng of Monash University in Melbourne wants to make cancer treatment gentler and more effective for elderly patients with blood cancers and other blood disorders.

“James Chong and Tracy Heng have both received $50,000 Metcalf Prizes from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia in recognition of their leadership in stem cell research, translating and applying stem cell science to medical practice,” says Dr Graeme Blackman OAM, Chairman of the Foundation.

James Chong has two starters in the race to develop stem cell therapies for heart failure, to repair damage and provide 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.

“In Australia, 54,000 people suffer a heart attack and 20,000 die from chronic heart failure each year,” says James.

Heart attacks and chronic heart failure damage and kill heart muscle. For the people who don’t die, their hearts are permanently weakened, some to the extent of needing a heart transplant to survive.

“I want to develop stem cell treatments that can save the lives of the thousands of people who miss out on heart transplants.”

James has already shown that human stem cells can produce new beating heart muscle cells, repairing heart damage in an animal trial. But the test group developed abnormal heart rhythms.

He believes modifying the stem cells using gene therapy can overcome the heart rhythm irregularities and wants to test the approach in a further animal trial to pave the way for human trials.

James has also discovered a population of stem cells that naturally reside in the heart, but decline with ageing and disease. He is developing ways to reawaken these stem cells to repair the damaged heart.

James will use his Metcalf Prize to help advance his work on both fronts towards human trials.

For more information:

See 9 News Sydney’s coverage of James’ win
Stem cell therapy may soon repair damaged hearts, SBS, 13 February 2016

Congratulations to James and Tracy!

James Chong is an Affiliate Investigator in the Stem Cells Australia consortium.