Stem cells: making blood, replacing skin, restoring eyesight. Regulations need to protect patients from snake oil merchants

Media preview


  • Stem cells are saving lives today—through bone marrow and cord blood transplants
  • We’ll hear about 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 US regulations

Australia is tightening regulations in an effort to reign in rogue stem cell clinics.

The US is also cracking down on clinics marketing unproven treatments to patients. But ‘right to try’ laws there allow seriously ill patients to try experimental therapies without regulation or oversight. Doctors and scientists are alarmed.

More than 2,500 stem cell scientists from 50 countries are in Melbourne next week for the massive International Society for Stem Cell Research 2018 Annual Meeting. They will hear sound science from 150+ speakers, including:

Fighting type one diabetes with stem cells—Douglas Melton, USA

Doug Melton will report on a way to use stem cells to produce the massive quantities of insulin-producing beta cells needed to treat people with diabetes, including life-threatening type 1 diabetes, which his two children have. Doug will share his lab’s work towards providing human islet cells for diabetics and find ways to thwart immune rejection so that patients no longer require blood checks and insulin injections.

How new skin from genetically modified stem cells saved a refugee boy’s life—Michele De Luca, Italy

Michele De Luca and Graziella Pellegrini led the team that developed genetically-engineered stem cells to produce sheets of disease-free skin cells to save the life of a seven-year-old Syrian refugee who has ‘butterfly skin’, the genetic disease Epidermolysis Bullosa that leaves his skin as fragile as a butterfly’s wings. Now living with his family in Germany, Hassan is able to attend school, play soccer and live a full life.

Could well-connected stem cells provide brain repair for Parkinson’s disease?—Clare Parish, Australia

Clare Parish will reveal how a stem cell transplant can treat Parkinson’s disease and restore normal movement in animal trials, so long as the newly transplanted cells make the right connections in the brain.

Why patients risk their money and health on unproven stem cell treatments—Megan Munsie, Australia

Why do patients risk the health they have by undertaking experimental therapies or travelling overseas for treatments? Megan Munsie knows. She asked patients and their families. She has talked to the operators of commercial stem cell clinics to see what makes them tick. She has been a key voice in the review of Australia’s regulations.


  • 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 can humans learn from axolotls about tissue and nerve regeneration?—Elly Tanaka, Austria
  • Tracing blood back to its beginnings to tackle leukaemia—Andrew Elefanty, Australia
  • Rewriting the ‘code of life’ and the future of gene editing—CRISPR/cas9 co-inventor Jennifer Doudna, USA

Scientists available for interviews in the lead up to and during the meeting.

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