Australian stem cell research: at the frontier of tomorrow’s medicine

07 March 2019
Meet Australian researchers who use stem cells to advance our understanding of how the body develops and what happens during disease.

Stem Cells Australia was established in 2011 to discover how to regulate stem cells. The initiative is now poised to harness the immense potential of stem cells for new diagnostic, therapeutic and biotechnological applications. 

Meet eight Australian labs heads who are using stem cells in their research, to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms underpinning different diseases and conditions, so they can enable the development of new treatment options. Listen to their stories as they share an insight into their research, how they began their careers and what excites them about their work. 

Early career researchers, who are at the start of their research career, talk about the opportunities they have as junior researchers, to create, innovate and problem solve research questions that challenge and inspire them.

Australian stem cell researchers are making important discoveries in the lab, that will move research outcomes towards clinical applications. Watch their videos:

Associate Professor Helen Abud and Dr Thierry Jarde - Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute. 
The Epithelial Regeneration laboratory centres on understanding how stem cells control cellular growth and differentiation in the epithelial lining of the intestine, and how disruptions in this process cause intestinal disease, including inflammatory bowel disease and bowel cancer.

Professor James Bourne and Dr Jihane Homman-Ludiye – Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University.
The Bourne group have garnered an international reputation for being at the forefront of visual neuroscience with a particular emphasis on development, plasticity and repair of the brain following injury. The objective of the Bourne lab is to understand brain cells in detail, in a dish and in the animal model. 

Associate Professor James Chong and Dr Sujitha Thavapalachandran - Westmead Institute and the University of Sydney
Associate Professor James Chong is a practising cardiologist who's research is focused on the potential use of stem cells to regenerate damaged heart muscle tissue.

Professors Nick Di Girolamo and Stephanie Watson - University of NSW and University of Sydney
Professors Nick Di Girolamo and Stephanie Watson use stem cells to repair the damaged cornea and are now improving the protocols so that one day the treatment can be offered to more patients.

Professors Andrew Elefanty, Ed Stanley and Dr Elizabeth Ng - Murdoch Children's Research Institute.
Professors Andrew Elefanty and Ed Stanley and Dr Elizabeth Ng from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute are among the world’s leaders in the art of making human stem cells turn into blood cells and study blood cell development in the embryo.

Professor Richard Harvey and Dr Aude Dorison - Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and UNSW
Professor Richard Harvey and his lab are exploring whether stem cell components of heart cells might be harnessed to restore function of the heart after a heart attack.

Associate Professor Andrew Laslett and Dr Jacob Goodwin – Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University, and CSIRO.
The Laslett group investigate the biology of human pluripotent stem cell, including embryonic stem cells. They work on modelling breast cancer in a dish and screening for drugs, building a scaffold for growing liver cells from stem cells and improving tools to identify and select for certain cells from a mixture of cells.  

Professor Melissa Little, Dr Tom Forbes and Dr Sara Howden - Murdoch Children's Research Institute
Professor Melissa Little and Drs Tom Forbes and Sara Howden at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute are combining stem cells and gene editing to understand kidney diseases and their treatments.

Associate Professor Jessica Mar and Dr Atefeh Fard - Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland.
The Mar lab focusses on developing and using statistical models to interrogate data from stem cells to understand what happens during ageing and disease, and to understand the genetic variability in populations of cells. 

Dr Toby Merson – Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University.
The Merson group studies the cellular and molecular interactions between neurons and myelin-forming cells in the brain. A key discovery is that some stem cells have a greater capacity than others for regenerating myelin that is damaged in Multiple Sclerosis. The team is exploring how to utilise this finding to improve myelin growth. 

Professor Megan Munsie and Saed Fahd - University of Melbourne.
Professor Megan Munsie is interested in the implications of stem cell science both in the lab and in the community.Her lab at the University of Melbourne focuses on how people view and understand stem cell science as well as to inform national and international policy responses to key issues.

Professor Susie Nilsson and Dr Ben Cao – Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University and CSIRO.
The Nilsson Group is currently involved in a number of research projects that focus on understanding blood stem cells, to use these findings to improve human health, particularly in the areas of bone marrow transplant, collecting blood stem cell and blood disorders such as leukaemia and bone marrow failure. 

Dr Michael O’Connor and Dr Rachel Shparberg - Western Sydney University
Dr Michael O’Connor heads the Regenerative Medicine lab at Western Sydney University, and is interested in using human stem cells to better understand and one day treat cataracts disease.

Dr Nathan Palpant and Enakshi Sinniah - Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland.
The Stem cells and cardiovascular development lab is trying to understand how the heart develops, at an individual cell level, to better explore drugs that might treat the injured heart following a heart attack.

Professor Clare Parish and Associate Professor Lachlan Thompson - The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.
Professor Clare Parish and Associate Professor Lachlan Thompson have long been at the forefront of discovery in brain repair, particularly for Parkinson’s Disease. 

Professor Professor Alice Pébay and Dr Grace Lidgerwood - University of Melbourne
The Stem Cell Disease Modelling lab reprograms patients’ skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells, and then grow these into cells affected by various eye diseases to investigate the genetic diseases of the eye, many of which have no intervention or cure.

Professor Jose Polo and Dr Anja Knaupp – Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University and the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute.
The Polo group is interested what makes a cell that cell and how one cell matures into another cell type. It has a particular focus on reprogramming skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells and other mature cell types. The outcomes of their lab will help us understand disease and screen for drugs, as well as in regenerative medicine and, in the future, creating cells with new functions. 

Associate Professor Enzo Porrello - Murdoch Children's Research Institute
Associate Professor Enzo Porrello is a stem cell scientist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and University of Melbourne. He is investigating using bioengineered heart tissue, derived from stem cells, as a potential therapy to correct heart defects in children. 

Professor Colin Pouton and Dr John Haynes  Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
The Stem Cell Biology Group operates under the belief that stem cells are the "next step" for modelling diseases in a dish to understand them, as well as a pharmacological screening platform for drug discovery programs. The lab’s current interests lie modelling Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Associate Professor Joseph Powell and Dr Drew Neavin - Garvan Institute for Medical Research
Associate Professor Joseph Powell and his lab are using stem cells to model complex diseases through  single cell sequencing and analysis. 

Dr Mirana Ramialison and Dr Ekaterina Salimova – Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University.
The Ramialison lab is studying causes of congenital heart disease and understanding the genetic landscape of cardiac cells, to investigate how to help the heart regenerative itself. They are a multidisciplinary team of computational and molecular biologists who specialise in genomics.

Professor Christine Wells and Nadia Rajab - University of Melbourne.
Professor Christine Wells at the University of Melbourne is uses pluripotent stem cells to create macrophages to understand the molecular rules of cellular identity.

Professor Ernst Wolvetang and Cecilia Gomez - Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland.
The Wolvetang Group use reprogrammed stem cells to model the brain and understand neurodegenerative diseases and possible treatment opportunities.