Young talent time in stem cell research; new treatment information handbook; meet an unlikely marathon-running fundraiser

Bulletins, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia October newsletter

Welcome to my occasional bulletin on stem cell science, news and the ongoing work of the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.

October’s a busy month for the Foundation, as the region’s top stem cell researchers converge on Brisbane for the 6th annual meeting of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research (ASSCR).

We’re excited to be supporting 57 early-career researchers with travel grants to join us in Brisbane. I look forward to hearing their presentations and sharing their enthusiasm for stem cell science.

Later this month, we will also reach out to an even younger audience. We’re bringing stem cell researcher and filmmaker Professor Clare Blackburn to Australia to talk to school groups about her research and her film Stem Cell Revolutions.

Our revised patient handbook is now up online – we hope that patients will find it a useful tool as they weigh up the risks and benefits of stem cell treatments.

Our work is only possible with the support of our fundraisers, and I am personally very proud of the efforts of Tracy King – in this newsletter, she shares her personal story of running marathons, raising funds and living with multiple sclerosis.

Kind regards,

Dr Graeme L Blackman OAM

Chairman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

In this bulletin:

A tsunami of young talent heads to stem cell research conference

Welcoming 57 energetic young researchers to the annual stem cell conference

The Foundation is thrilled to announce that 57 bright young stem cell scientists have been awarded grants to attend the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research (ASSCR) annual meeting at the end of this month. In testament to the quality of their abstracts and applications, Foundation grant recipients have filled two thirds of the conference’s 29 oral presentation spots assigned for submitted abstracts.

“It’s a wave of youthful energy,” is how ASSCR President Caroline Gargett describes the effect of the grants program.

“Having so many young researchers coming is turning out to be a real revitalisation for the sector. Larger research teams are able to attend together, rather than just the top few senior researchers. I can see the excitement building in my own research institute.”

Applicants submitted abstracts, which were scored and ranked, and considered for both the conference program and the Foundation grants. The quality of applications saw the Foundation extend the grant program by a few extra places.

“What struck me was the sheer number of grant recipients who got speaking spots – that’s a hard thing to achieve. It shows these young researchers are doing as well as many of the senior members,” says Caroline.

Joining us in Brisbane next month will be 37 PhD students and 18 early career researchers, with travel, registration and conference dinner costs covered by Foundation funding.

“This has been a great opportunity for young researchers to add to their CV and to attend the conference and build professional networks,” says Caroline. “And the dinner is usually something students can’t afford.”

The ASSCR 6th annual meeting will be held in Brisbane, October 27-29 and will feature four international guest speakers, along with twelve or more of Australia’s leading stem cell scientists. Our own Dr Christopher Juttner, a physician and chair of the Foundation’s Scientific and Ethics board sub-committee, will be the conference dinner speaker. Several Foundation board members will also participate in an ‘Ask the Expert’ Junior Investigator event.

For more information visit the event website.

Schools events: stem cells film and filmmaker touring Australia

See award-winning documentary Stem Cell Revolutions and meet the scientist and filmmaker behind it

Scientist and filmmaker Professor Clare Blackburn

From Dolly the sheep to the potential of stem cell therapies: high school students are invited to special screenings of Stem Cell Revolutions in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

After each screening the students will have the chance to ask questions of the film’s co-producer, the University of Edinburgh’s Professor Clare Blackburn, and a panel of Australian stem cell experts.

This free program, organised on the Foundation’s behalf by Stem Cells Australia, will help students to gain a deeper understanding about the history of stem cell research and what it holds for the future.

Stem Cell Revolutions features interviews with 2012 Nobel Prize winners, Shinya Yamanaka and John Gurdon, and Sir Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep. Interviews and engaging animations take the students on a journey from the earliest experiments, which first revealed stem cells in the body, to the latest scientific and clinical developments.

Graphics and animations help tell the story of stem cells

The film and panel conversation will discuss how stem cell science has developed and how stem cells may affect people’s lives. The sessions will also discuss the realities behind the hopes and fears associated with stem cell science.

The program is designed for Years 9 and 10, but students from Years 11 and 12 are welcome. Stem Cell Revolutions was the winner of the Best Documentary Award at the Vedere La Scienza Festival 2012.

Screening dates
Thursday 24 October @ Melbourne Brain Centre, Parkville
Friday 25 October @ Quantum Victoria, Macleod West
Tuesday 29 October @ Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, South Bank
Wednesday 30 October @ Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

In Melbourne, there will also be a special screening for teachers on the evening of Thursday 24 October @ Melbourne Brain Centre.

More information from Stem Cells Australia.

Going the distance: the inspiring story of Foundation fundraiser Tracy King

Melbourne mum with multiple sclerosis runs the Gold Coast Marathon

Tracy King with her family at the Gold Coast Marathon starting line.
(L to R) brothers Brett and Allan, Tracy, sister Kylie and dad Ron.

When mother-of-two Tracy King hears people describe her as a marathon runner, she thinks “that is hysterical!”

“I’m not a gym junkie,” says Tracy. “I never have been.”

In spite of this, and the loss of mobility she has experienced since being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Tracy ran the Gold Coast Marathon with her family, raising over $2,400 for the Foundation.

Tracy was diagnosed with MS in 2000. Working as an operations manager for a chain of pharmacies, she had met people experiencing the harsh realities of progressed MS.

“When I was diagnosed it freaked me out.”

One of Tracy’s coping strategies was to set herself challenges to work towards.

“I’ve always wanted to do the Kokoda Trail. So we booked it and I started training. I’m not actually a sporty person. I couldn’t even run. I’d run for a minute then walk for two minutes, but I worked up. I set myself a series of goals. It took two years to get fit enough.”

Tracy’s friends and colleagues began asking whether she was fundraising for any charities. This got her thinking beyond her own condition.

“My aunt just passed away from cancer. I have friends who are diabetic,” Tracy explains. “Stem cell research could help all those things, but no one really knows about it.”

Stem cell research has strong potential to benefit conditions like cancer, MS and diabetes. Tracy found that her circle of friends and acquaintances had little awareness of the potential of stem cell science, despite knowing people who have these conditions.

“One friend said, ‘Does Australia do stem cell research?'” says Tracy. “People don’t even know the research is happening here.”

This year Tracy decided to run the Gold Coast Marathon and to finish it within the official time limit. She achieved this, with her father, sister and brothers joining her for parts of the marathon and accompanying her over the finish line. She set up a fundraising page for her run, with donations going to the Foundation to support stem cell research and community education.

Tracy is continuing to set herself new challenges, while accepting there are times when she can’t train because of her health. Her plans include trekking to Everest Base Camp in 2015 and taking part in the five-day Big Red Run through the Simpson Desert in 2016.

“I’ve had MS for 13 years, but I’ve been pretty healthy,” says Tracy. “Some days are a struggle, but you get through it.”

In the mean time, Tracy encourages other people to donate to the Foundation.

“Think about your own family and loved ones and what benefits could come if we spent more money on stem cell research,” says Tracy. “I think about myself, my immediate family and friends. We all know people that are affected by these diseases. Think of them.”

Donations to the Foundation can be made securely online

Read more of Tracy’s story via her (now closed) Gold Coast Marathon fundraising page or her Quest Newspapers profile

New handbook sends ‘buyer beware’ message for unproven stem cell therapies

Sorting science-based advice from snake oil sales pitches

An increasing number of expensive, unproven and unethical stem cell therapies are being offered in Australia and overseas, advertised on slick internet sites with glowing testimonials. A new publication will help people living with illness make informed choices about their treatments.

From successful bone marrow transplants to shock stories of bone fragments growing in eyelids, emerging stem cell therapies have both great potential and great risk.

“We’re concerned by the growing number of shonky businesses offering false hope to vulnerable people,” says Foundation CEO David Zerman. “We’ve funded this resource to help people sort fact from fiction.”

“We encourage people to pass it on to anyone they know contemplating treatments they’ve read about on the internet.”

The Australian Stem Cell Handbook summarises the pros and cons of medical travel, potential risks and benefits, and helps patients evaluate their options when considering local options or travelling overseas for treatments.

The Foundation has developed and published the handbook in conjunction with Stem Cells Australia.

Visit the Foundation website to download the handbook

Stem cell news from around the world

Between newsletters, we share stem cell news on social media:

Here are a few of the stories we’ve shared recently.

BBC: Stem cell burger hot off the grill!

Asian Scientist: Japanese pilot study of induced pluripotent stem cells in age-related macular degeneration starts recruiting patients

Philippine Inquirer: The tempest on stem cell treatments in the Philippines continues

Fox News: Scammers offering phoney stem cell therapies to ‘treat’ incurable diseases

Futurity: Stem cell potential not only therapeutic. Also important research tool. Eg: ‘Epilepsy in a dish’ finds new mutation

Tempo: Stem cell clients urged to report side effects

Science Daily: ‘Harmonizing a Broken Heart: Stem Cells Keep Cardiac Beat in Synchrony’

About the Foundation

The Foundation is a new charity established as a legacy of the Australian Stem Cell Centre.

The Foundation is working to:

  • promote the study and ethical use of stem cells to reduce the burden of disease
  • enhance public education

We are also building a community of people with a stake in stem cell science and to promote collaboration between scientists locally and internationally.

Please feel free to contact the Foundation’s CEO David Zerman on (03) 9524 3166 or email him at

Spread the word 

Help us grow

We’re keen to build a community of people with a stake in stem cell science to educate the community and support patients, clinicians and researchers. Feel free to pass this newsletter on to anyone who might be interested.

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