Role of stem cells in personalised medicine under the microscope

27 November 2014
Michelle Burke discussing personalised medicine (photo courtesy of AusBiotech)

The AusBiotech Life Sciences conference is an annual event on the Australian conference circuit. Held this year on the Gold Coast in late October, the theme of the meeting was ‘Life Sciences = Future. Jobs. Exports.’

In a conference focused on the future opportunities for the biotechnology industry, it was fitting that a session on ‘Personalised Medicine’, which explored the role that induced pluripotent stem cells (or iPSCs) will play in the development of more effective and more targeted therapeutics, was held. In a session organised by Stem Cells Australia and chaired by University of Tasmania’s Joy Rathjen, the audience heard first from Michelle Burke from Bristol-Myers Squibb (Australia) Pty Ltd. Michelle set the scene with the difficult task of defining the concept of personalised medicine and exploring the opportunities and limitations she saw in the development of targeted therapeutics.

Michelle was followed by Ernst Wolvetang - researcher at the University of Queensland and Director of Cell Reprogramming Australia - who provided an academic perspective on the potential of iPSCs in the development of disease models with applications in therapeutic development.

Kyle Kolaja from Cellular Dynamics International then contributed a fascinating insight into the actual and potential value of iPSCs as models for testing therapeutics and accessing the genetics and biochemistry of disease.

Other sessions on the day discussed the development of effective pathways to translate academic findings into the commercial sphere, peppered with positive and negative anecdotes articulating the difficulties that can beggar the process. Key to this discussion was the realisation that a poor understanding of, and communication of, the aspirations of scientists involved on either side of a translational project presented a major stumbling block to success.

The positive message to come from the ‘Personalised Medicine’ session was that scientists recognize this challenge and are sharing ideas and tools to overcome the barriers – a situation that bodes well for effective communication between the public and private sectors and, eventually, seamless translation of publically funded research from the lab to the clinic.

Joy Rathjen and Ernst Wolvetang are members of the Stem Cells Australia initiative. Thanks to Joy for this conference report.