23 July 2009

Two University of Queensland researchers will drive the translation of stem cell biology into economic benefit through their leadership of new research programs, announced by the Australian Stem Cell Centre today.

They are Professor Peter Gray and Associate Professor Ernst Wolvetang of UQ's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

The new programs, called Collaborative Streams, aim to better understand reprogramming cells to make stem cells and testing their therapeutic potential in a range of diseases, as well as recreating the natural environment of stem cells to produce the large number of cells required to treat patients.

Associate Professor Wolvetang is head of the Reprogramming and Induction of Pluripotency Collaborative Stream.

He said pluripotent cells could become any cell type of the body.

The ability to reprogram normal adult cells into these more primitive induced pluripotent cells (iPS cells), was a significant advance that might ultimately be used to better understand disease progression and potentially develop treatments using patient-specific stem cells.

“The Stream received more the $2million and brings together the cream of Australian expertise in pluripotent stem cells to better understand the process of reprogramming and to test their therapeutic potential in a range of diseases,” Associate Professor Wolvetang said.

“My research involves understanding the complex molecular mechanisms governing the generation and differentiation of patient specific pluripotent stem cells and investigating iPS cells as potential disease models for degenerative diseases.”

AIBN Director and leader of the Bioreactors and Smart Surfaces for Stem Cell Propagation Stream Professor Peter Gray said a challenge was to grow stem cells in large volumes, establish that they are safe for use in patients, and turn them into cells appropriate for treatment of different diseases.

“To do this our Stream is investigating various artificial surfaces and small molecules that recreate the natural environments in which stem cells grow and differentiate,” Professor Gray said.

“This will enable us to grow stem cells efficiently and economically in the laboratory in volumes suitable for clinical use.

“AIBN Professors Lars Nielsen and Justin Cooper-White, as well as Associate Professor Ernst Wolvetang are also involved in this stream.

“Lars is looking to produce neutrophils from stem cells to assist patients recovering from chemotherapy, while Justin is involved in the design, test and validation of artificial surfaces for cell interactions.”

According to Professor Gray the establishment of the Collaborative Streams will elevate stem cell research in this country.

“By working together scientists will accelerate the translation of stem cells from the lab to the clinic,” he said.

The AIBN is a multi-disciplinary research institute based at UQ, which brings together the skills of world-class researchers in the areas of bioengineering and nanotechnology to produce positive health and environmental outcomes such as biomedical delivery; bio-devices; tissue regeneration; and cell therapies.

Media: Contact Associate Professor Ernst Wolvetang (07 3346 3894) or Russell Griggs (07 3346 3989).