Leiden University Medical Center

Copenhagen, Leiden and Melbourne tackle stem cells together

€300m funding from Novo Nordisk Foundation brings together experts to advance stem cell medicine therapies

The exciting possibilities of new drugs and therapies using human stem cells to treat heart, respiratory and kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, and other conditions are the focus of a new $468 million Australian-European collaboration of three research institutes, based in Melbourne.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine, known as ‘reNEW’ brings together Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Australia, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

The centre was made possible through a record stem cell medicine grant of up to €300 million over 10 years from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, an international philanthropic foundation based in Denmark, which focuses on medical treatment and research.

Pioneering Australian scientist Professor Melissa Little has been appointed CEO.

Professor Little, Theme Director of Cell Biology at MCRI, is known for creating functioning ‘mini-kidneys’ from stem cells, used to study diseases and test treatments.

“Stem cell research has come so far,” says Melissa. “Right now we are producing beating heart tissue that may be able to treat children with congenital heart disease. And we’re really only scratching the surface.”

Cardiac stem cell researcher Professor Enzo Porrello will be Director of reNEWS’s Melbourne node.

He will oversee the centre’s research at MCRI and continue his own work developing patches of heart tissue that can contract to provide extra blood-pumping power to people with heart conditions.

He will work alongside Professor Andrew Elefanty, Professor Ed Stanley and Associate Professor David Elliott. 

“I’m really excited about the development of engineered heart patches,” Professor Porrello says. “Over the next few years, we want to move that work forward to a point where we’ve established it’s safe and effective in large animal trials. Then we can begin to think about taking that into the clinic for human trials.”