A fond farewell to Professor Martin Pera

30 January 2017
Wishing Professor Martin Pera well in his new role at JAX

Professor Martin Pera, inaugural Program Leader of the Stem Cells Australia initiative, will be returning to the USA to take-up a position at the The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) in Bar Harbour, Maine where he will continue his research into the mechanisms that control the growth and fate of pluripotent stem cells.

Established in 2011 with the support of the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council’s Special Research Initiatives scheme, Stem Cells Australia (SCA) has sought to develop innovative ways to harness the potential of stem cells. Key to this objective has been forging interdisciplinary, inter-institutional collaborative links between key Australian experts in bioengineering, nanotechnology, bioinformatics, stem cell biology, advanced molecular analysis and clinical research.

Under Professor Pera’s leadership, SCA researchers have provided an authoritative voice to the Australian government, regulators and the general public on stem cell technologies, ethics, and legislation particularly raising concern about the provision of unproven interventions being marketed and sold in Australia as ‘stem cell’ treatments. 

The vibrant network of over 120 researchers, forged under Professor Pera’s guidance, has contributed to substantial progress in stem cell science. Most recently this has included formation of kidney organoids in a dish (published in Nature), the differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells into cells resembling hematopoieitic stem cells (published in Nature Biotechnology) and the commercialisation of a novel process to produce human neutrophils in vitro for cancer treatment.

Professor Pera has attributed these and other successes of the initiative to the vision and determination of the researchers and the long term and continuous support provided by the Australian Research Council, first through the Australian Stem Cell Centre and more latterly through Stem Cells Australia.

In addition to fostering an environment that has enabled research excellence to thrive, Martin has also championed training and mentoring opportunities for young researchers and has been a powerful advocate for stem cell science in the broader community.  This is particularly in relation to his position on the need to address challenging ethical and regulatory issues associated with the translation of stem cell research into clinical practice.

In terms of his own research interests, Professor Pera remains focused on the regulation of growth and differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells – special cells that can form all of the cells of the body and which are obtained from human embryos or created in the laboratory using the technique of reprogramming. Specifically, he is interested in how pluripotent stem cells can be grown in the laboratory and the processes by which their fate can be changed. He plans to use his research to develop new ways to study conditions associated with the disease or injury to the central nervous system such as following stroke and brain injury.

Professor Pera has made an invaluable contribution to the Stem Cells Australia initiative and Australian science more broadly, and we wish him the best as he pursues his new role at JAX and look forward to ongoing engagement particularly through the International Society for Stem Cell Research where he serves as Clerk.