Stem cells: the potential, the reality and the dangers

Media releases, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

national-stem-cell-foundation-of-australiaAusSMC briefing 11 am Melbourne Convention Centre and online at:

Free public forums and media interviews in Sydney (25 August), Brisbane
(26 August), Adelaide (28 August), and Melbourne (1 September).

When will stem cell medicine deliver on its promise for:

  • Cancer
  • Brain diseases and spinal cord injury
  • Repairing organs and tissue.

What’s holding us back after the years of hype?

Why you shouldn’t pursue unproven stem cell treatments?


Free public forums and media interviews in Sydney (25 August), Brisbane (26 August), Adelaide (28 August), and Melbourne (1 September).

Professor Irv Weissman and Dr Ann Tsukamoto discovered human blood stem cells in 1992 and have experienced all of the joy and frustration of researching developing stem cell medicines.

Today they’re trialling treatments for cancer and for degenerative diseases. But they’re also deeply concerned about the over promising of stem cell medicine, and of the unproven treatments that cost desperate patients tens of thousands of dollars.

Irv leads the Stanford University Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. Ann, his wife, is Vice President of StemCells Inc.

They are both convinced of the revolutionary potential of stem cell medicine to help us fight cancer and repair damaged organs, brains and limbs.

But they also know that much of today’s stem cell research will never find its way to the clinic.

“Stem cell medicine is already making a difference through bone marrow transplants for cancer but there’s too much excitement and too much hype and hope. Most of the clinical studies in the US are likely to fail because of the lack of rigorous science and understanding of the cells they’re using,” says Ann.

And she’s talking about highly credible research from leading institutions. There’s even less evidence to support the stem cell treatments now being marketed to desperate patients in the US, India, China, and even here in Australia.

“It’s foolish and dangerous to inject a cocktail of cells and hope for the best,” says Irv. “Sadly many Americans can’t enter real clinical trials because of the various dodgy treatments that have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

“Before you sign up to a stem cell therapy ask: is the therapy backed by a credible research institution? Is the therapy approved by the FDA or the equivalent? Have the method and the results been published in peer-reviewed publications?” he says. “Regulations frustrate all of us. But they’re there to protect us from unproven treatments.”

So when will stem cell medicine deliver on its promise? “We need to refocus on pure stem cells, and how to harvest, grow and manufacture them.”

“If we get that right then the real stem cell revolution will still be a decade or more away. But it will bring ways of repairing genetic disorders, organs and damaged brains,” says Ann.

In the interim there are promising developments in cancer. Irv and his colleagues at Stanford University have been assessing the one-off use of pure blood-forming stem cells in breast cancer and have seen four times the survival rate after 14 years. He’s also found ‘do not eat me’ and ‘do eat me’ markers on a wide range of cancer cells and is about to start a clinical trial using those markers.

His vision of cancer treatment is first a treatment of chemo followed by a rescue with cancer-free stem cells that will ensure that the cancer cells are destroyed.  And Ann’s company is trialling human neural stem cells for brain and eye diseases and spinal cord repair.

Irv and Ann are giving free public talks together with local experts in Sydney (25 August), Brisbane (26 August), Adelaide (28 August), and Melbourne on 1 September.

They are touring as guests of the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia, a charitable body that promotes the study and use of stem cells and public education.

Contact details

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

Niall Byrne, Science in Public, 0417 131 977,

Errol Hunt, Science in Public, 0423139-210,

Online:, Twitter: @AusStemCell


Dr Tsukamoto is a leader in the commercial development of stem cell medicine. She gained her Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and has 20 years experience in Stem Cell Biology. She was a co-discoverer of the human haematopoietic stem cell with Professor Weissman. She is Executive Vice President of Scientific and Strategic Alliances at StemCells Inc. She will talk about the company’s four active human clinical trials in the broad context of neural stem cell research.

Professor Weissman is Professor of Pathology and Developmental Biology at Stanford University where he is the Director of the Stanford Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. He is recognised as the discoverer of the human haematopoietic stem cell, has a long history of research into normal and cancer stem cells and has founded three biotechnology companies. He has been an advisor to American Presidents.

Further reading

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,

More at

Free public forum details:

  • Sydney Monday 25 August, 6pm. Masonic Centre, 66 Goulburn Street.
  • Brisbane Tuesday 26 August, 6pm. Queensland Irish Club, 175 Elizabeth Street.
  • Adelaide Thursday 28 August, 6pm. SAHMRI Building, North Terrace West.
  • Melbourne Monday 1 September, 6pm. Melbourne City Conference Centre, 333 Swanston St, Melbourne, (Opposite State Library of Victoria)

Further details and bookings: