New national stem cell prizes for Tasmanian and Melbourne researchers

Jose Polo, Donald Metcalf and Kaylene Young. Credit: Mark Coulson/NSCFACould we wake up our brain’s stem cells to repair injury and disease – Kaylene Young, Hobart

How adult cells change identity as they’re turned into stem cells – Jose Polo, Melbourne

Kaylene’s full profile and photos

Jose’s full profile and photos

Scientists available at 10am for photo call and interviews in their labs

Dr Kaylene Young of the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania and Dr Jose Polo of Monash University have both received inaugural $50,000 Metcalf Prizes from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia in recognition of their leadership in stem cell research.

Kaylene Young believes she can persuade lazy stem cells in our brain to repair brain injuries and even treat diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.

Kaylene and her colleagues have found neural stem cells and related progenitor cells—which feed, protect and assist nerve cells—in the outer part of the brain most prone to damage, known as the cortex.

By understanding the behaviour and function of these cells, they one day hope to use them for treating nervous and brain disorders or damage.

“Our ultimate goal is to harness the regenerative capacity of these cells for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, mental health disorders, and traumatic brain injury,” says Kaylene.

Kaylene is a National Health and Medical Research Council RD Wright Biomedical Research Fellow and Research Group Leader at the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania at the University of Tasmania.

The progenitor cells are the only cells, apart from other neurons, with which nerve cells communicate electrically, Kaylene says, and that means there may be an electrical means of controlling them or modifying their behaviour to induce regeneration.

Jose Polo is unveiling the details of how stem cells can be produced from adult cells through a process of identity theft and reprogramming.

His work in unravelling the development of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells —stem cells generated from adult cells in the skin, liver, blood and elsewhere—is an important step on a path which could lead to treating degenerative diseases and understanding some cancers.

Jose is a Sylvia and Charles Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellow at the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology and the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University.

“We’ve created the Metcalf Prizes to encourage early-career stem cell research pioneers,” says Dr Graeme Blackman, OAM, the Chairman of the Foundation.

“We were stunned by the quality of the applications. Our inaugural winners Kaylene Young and Jose Polo stood out from a remarkable field of young research leaders. We can expect great things from Australian stem cell research in next few years.”

The awards are named for Professor Donald Metcalf, AC, who transformed cancer treatment with his discoveries of critical molecules that tell stem cells to multiply and mature to boost the immune system.

Contact details

Jose Polo, Monash University, 0407 745 998, (03) 9905 0005,

Kaylene Young, University of Tasmania,  0427 618 366, (03) 6226 7745,

David Zerman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia, 0418 346 999, (03) 9524 3166,

Niall Byrne, Science in Public, 0417 131 977,

Laura Boland, Science in Public, 0408 166 426,

About the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

The National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia (NSCFA) is a health-promotion charity dedicated to promoting the study and responsible use of stem cells to reduce the burden of disease.

The Foundation’s activities include:

  • supporting research that pursues cures for as-yet-untreatable diseases
  • building a community of people with a shared interest in stem cell science
  • providing the Australian public with objective, reliable information on both the potential and risks of stem cell medicine.

The Foundation is led by an expert volunteer Board, with a diversity of scientific, medical and governance experience. The Chairman is Dr Graeme Blackman, OAM, FTSE.

The Board consults with leading stem cell scientists before committing funds to research and education initiatives.

Contact: David Zerman, 0418 346 999,

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Kaylene Young, Donald Metcalf and Jose Polo. Credit: Mark Coulson/NSCFA

Kaylene Young, Donald Metcalf and Jose Polo. Credit: Mark Coulson/NSCFA

Jose Polo, Donald Metcalf and Kaylene Young. Credit: Mark Coulson/NSCFA

Jose Polo, Donald Metcalf and Kaylene Young. Credit: Mark Coulson/NSCFA

Jose Polo and Kaylene Young. Credit: Mark Coulson/NSCFA

Jose Polo and Kaylene Young. Credit: Mark Coulson/NSCFA