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.

The potential for 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 Australian-European collaboration of three research institutes.

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

Pioneering Australian scientist Professor Melissa Little, known for using stem cells to create functioning ‘mini-kidneys’ used to study diseases and treatments, has been appointed CEO.

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

Cardiac stem cell researcher Professor Enzo Porrello will be Director of reNEWS’s Melbourne team, overseeing the centre’s research at MCRI and continuing his own work developing patches of heart tissue that can contract to provide extra blood-pumping power to people with heart conditions.

“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.”

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.