Official Launch Stem Cells Australia

10 November 2011
Professor Margaret Sheil launches Stem Cells Australia (Casamento Photography) The new $21m Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative, Stem Cells Australia, was officially launched today at the University of Melbourne by Professor Margaret Sheil on behalf of Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr. Stem Cells Australia links the country's leading experts in bioengineering, nanotechnology, stem cell biology, advanced molecular analysis and clinical research and was established by the University of Melbourne, Monash University, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, University of Queensland, University of NSW, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, CSIRO and Florey Neuroscience Institutes. 

At the launch Professor Martin PeraStem Cells Australia's Program Leader, made the following address:

"On behalf of the scientists of Stem Cells Australia, I would like to thank the Australian Research Council for its support of this exciting initiative. There is a great history of stem cell research in Australia. Let me highlight a few examples. Don Metcalf at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute was a pioneer in the field of blood stem cells, a system that serves as a paradigm for understanding stem cells in mammals, and this tradition carries forward today with Doug Hilton and his associates who are part of our consortium.  Some of the most important work in mesenchymal stem cells originated from Adelaide, which remains a leading center for this research. I was fortunate to contribute to the beginnings of human embryonic stem cell research when I was at Monash University, and my colleagues there and elsewhere continue to make important contribution to this rapidly growing area. Perry Bartlett and his colleagues are well known for their work on characterizing stem cells in the nervous system. Stem cell research rests on the intellectual foundations of developmental biology and we have world leaders in that area such as Richard Harvey. And today, biotechnology companies founded in Australia, or those built in part on their technologies, are amongst the leaders in translational research and clinical development, including Mesoblast here, and Viacyte, Stem Cells Inc, and Biotime in California.

This longstanding strength in stem cell research has been bolstered in recent years by some new truly exciting new developments, including the integration of stem cell research with world class programs in bioinformatics and engineering at the University of Queensland, the group of international investigators recruited here by Nadia Rosenthal to study the biology of tissue regeneration at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University, and the engagement of CSIRO  Materials Science division, and the powerful technologies at its disposal, in this increasingly interdisciplinary field. And a new cadre of young scientists, from here in this building at the Florey Neurosciences Institute and across the country, has emerged, eager to play their role in this scientific revolution. We, the geriatrics of this field, welcome this infusion of new talent and fresh ideas.

We have an very progressive and responsible regulatory framework for the conduct of this research in Australia, due in no small part to those like Megan Munsie and Bob Williamson, who have successfully and tirelessly engaged with the public and with the legislative bodies to ensure informed and enlightened discussion of the issues behind the science. We have also been fortunate to have strong advocates in the political arena, such as Natasha Stott Despoja and Kay Patterson, who helped guide our country through the process of creating legislation that allowed  for this important research to progress with a very high standard of ethical conduct. Their work has recently received strong endorsement from the efforts of Justice Heerey and his colleague Reverend McGovern on the 2010 Legislative Review Committee.

Stem Cells Australia is fortunate to draw on this vast wealth of expertise, and on the legacy of collaboration that was developed in the final phase of the operation of the Australian Stem Cell Centre under Joe Sambrook and Graham MacDonald. 

During the past decade, the discipline of stem cell research has grown exponentially, and we have witnessed many stunning breakthroughs:  great improvement in our understanding of the molecular framework for pluripotency and technical advances in growing and manipulating pluripotent stem cells; new understanding of stem cells in adult tissues like the heart and brain and a better appreciation of their role in normal physiology and disease; induced pluripotency; and the first trials of cellular therapeutics made from human embryonic stem cells.

However there is much to do before this field realizes its full potential. For example the early Phase I trials of embryonic stem cell derived therapeutics are in a sense rudimentary and are liable to pose more problems and challenges than they solve. Stem Cells Australia provides a great foundation for driving collaboration and innovation in this field. Our resources are limited, and we only represent a minority of the excellence in stem cell research across the country. However, we are confident that we can build on this framework, to engage with our colleagues and to find pathways to translate our discoveries in several dimensions - in the research laboratories, into new technologies to study human functional genomics, to model human disease, and develop new medicines; and in the clinic, to deliver new cellular therapies. 

The ARC’s overarching demand is excellence in research, and that will be our focus and our goal. I am delighted to return to Australia to lead this program and I look forward to working with all of you to move Stem Cells Australia forward."

Visit Stem cells under the microscope and University launches Stem Cells Australia to find out more.