Stem cell invasion: 2,500 researchers in Melbourne

International Society for Stem Cell Research 2018 Annual Meeting, Media bulletins

Mending broken hearts and burnt eyes, and much more

  • Stem cells are saving lives today—through bone marrow and cord blood transplants
  • There are trials making new skin, restoring sight, treating diabetes, repairing the brain
  • But we’ll also hear of the dangers of risky treatments, snake oil merchants, and new Australian and US regulations.

More than 2,500 stem cell scientists from 50 countries are in Melbourne this week for the massive International Society for Stem Cell Research 2018 Annual Meeting. It’s taking place from 20-23 June at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Here are some highlights and we’ll have daily alerts for you with more people and ideas through the week.

Media are welcome.

Developing a stem cell product to cure blindness from burning—Michele De Luca and Graziella Pellegrini, Italy

Italian innovators Graziella Pellegrini and Michele De Luca have seen their work lead to patients regaining eyesight after 20 years of blindness. And it’s led to the world’s first non-blood-related commercial stem cell therapy.

Graziella and Michele will outline their 25-year journey to take their idea for a new therapy from concept through to an approved treatment for limbal stem cell deficiency, a form of blindness caused by heat or chemical burns.

Gene therapy to help a broken heart mend itself—Deepak Srivastava, USA

Deepak Srivastava wants to break the vicious cycle of heart failure, where the loss of heart muscle from a heart attack leads to higher risk of further attacks and damage. So far, adult stem cells have had limited potential to turn into new heart muscle cells.

But the heart is only half muscle. Deepak is turning his attention to the other half—the support cells called fibroblasts that help repair wounds and form scars around damaged tissue. He will share the results of his experimental work that introduced three genes into the injured hearts of mice, coaxing the fibroblasts to convert to new muscle cells that synchronised with the rest of the heart, improving its function.

Making brain cells from skin cells to understand a new brain disease—Ernst Wolvetang, Australia

Ernst Wolvetang has recreated the brain cells of a patient who had a recently discovered disease so that scientists can study it, improve treatments and maybe one day cure it. Ernst will the share the science of ‘Massimo’s Mission’.

When the parents of then-toddler Massimo Damiani found out he had a rare and unknown degenerative genetic condition of the brain, they set about getting a specific diagnosis. Their search led to the discovery of a new disease.

Ernst has taken Massimo’s skin cells, turned them into stem cells, and then into brain cells. Massimo died peacefully in late 2017, but he leaves a legacy of lab-grown brain cells for testing treatments and improving their function.


  • Why patients risk their money and health on unproven stem cell treatments—Megan Munsie, Australia
  • Could stem cells provide brain repair for Parkinson’s disease?—Clare Parish, Australia
  • Stem cell eye patch cures blindness in two trial patients—Peter Coffey, UK
  • How chemicals control stem cells: to stop Zika, to become a pancreas, or to prevent cancer—Shuibing Chen, USA
  • What zebrafish can teach us about muscle injury recovery and organ growth—Peter Currie, Australia.

For more information, visit or Follow @ISSCR or #ISSCR2018.

We’re at the meeting, providing support for Australian media. Tanya Ha is across all things stem cells—contact her via 0404-083-863 or

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We will keep you posted with highlights each day of the conference.