Professor Melissa Little has been named the new head of the Stem Cells Australia initiative by the University of Melbourne.
is based at the Department of Pediatrics, University of Melbourne and
the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute
and brings a wealth of
experience to the role, with a strong vision for the future of
Australian science in this important area of medical research. Professor Christine Wells
Director of the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Stem Cell Systems
will be joining Professor Little as Deputy Program Leader of Stem Cells
Stem Cells Australia (SCA) was established in 2011 with the support of the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council’s Special Research Initiatives scheme, to develop innovative ways to harness the potential of stem cells.
The consortium links over 120 experts in bioengineering, nanotechnology,
stem cell biology, advanced molecular analysis and clinical research
across Australian universities and research institutes.
Making the announcement today on behalf of the Governance Committee of
Stem Cells Australia, the University of Melbourne’s Deputy
Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor James McCluskey commented that
Professor Little will bring a wealth of experience to the role, with a
strong vision to further advance Australian science in this important
area of medical research.
“Professor Little has a long and impressive history in medical
research and in driving biomedical science policy and translation in
Australia. She is ideally placed to facilitate excellence in Australian
stem cell science and convert these discoveries into genuine clinical
“As an internationally recognised leader in stem cell science across
more than 25 years for her work in developmental biology, Professor
Little is an excellent choice to help build on the achievements of
Australian scientists in this area and facilitate research to enable the
next phase of stem cell medicine.”
The SCA was previously lead by Professor Martin Pera who will return to
the USA to continue his research into control of stem cell fate at the
Jackson Laboratory in Maine. “As the inaugural Program Leader of SCA,
Professor Pera was instrumental in establishing a vibrant network of
interdisciplinary research that is internationally recognized,”
commented Professor McCluskey.
“He championed training and mentoring opportunities for young
researchers and has been a powerful advocate for stem cell science in
the broader community.”
Professor Little’s research has sought to understand kidney
development and what happens in disease. Most recently her team
pioneered a new way to make kidney tissue from stem cells. This
discovery provides an opportunity to develop innovative approaches to
treating kidney disease and was recognised by numerous awards including
the 2016 Eureka Prize for Scientific Research.
Professor Little was previously a member of the Wills and McKeon
Reviews of Health and Medical research, and is current a member of the
Biomedical Translation Fund board, a Fellow of the Australian Academy
for Health and Medical Sciences, President of the Australasian Society
for Stem Cell Research and the former Chief Scientific Officer of the
Australian Stem Cell Centre.
Professor Little is also Chair of the Scientific Organising Committee
for the 2018 conference of the International Society for Stem Cell
Research which will bring thousands of researchers from across the globe
During the past two years, SCA scientists reported a number of
important breakthroughs that have received international attention.
These include the 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 more recently, the commercialisation of a novel process to produce human neutrophils in vitro for cancer treatment.
Reflecting on these advances, Professor Pera noted that there were
common features to each. “First, they are all the product of years of
work, having begun back in the early 2000s with the vision of great
researchers. Second these projects have been made possible through long
term continuous support from the Australian Research Council, first
through the Australian Stem Cell Centre and more latterly through Stem
“Finally, the projects were realised through inter-institutional
collaborative networks built up as a direct result of this ARC support.
These great success stories teach us important lessons about the
importance of stable research funding that encourages high risk, high
payoff science, and that fosters the growth of a fertile collaborative