You can learn a lot about hearts by trying to build one from scratch. A pair of scientists have grown ‘beating’ human heart muscle tissue from stem cells and are exploring cardiac regeneration.
Developmental biologist Associate Professor Enzo Porrello became interested in how newborn mammal hearts can regenerate while working in Dallas, Texas at one of the leading labs researching heart development.
Associate Professor James Hudson has a background in chemical and biological engineering. In Germany, he developed bioengineering techniques to make force-generating human heart tissue at the University Medical Center in Göttingen. Continue reading Fixing hearts by finding out what makes them tick
With the help of a revolutionary robot, Professor David Adams and Associate Professor Mirella Dottori are studying neurons, testing drug candidates for chronic pain, and working towards precise, personalised neurological treatment.
David has been studying the neurology of chronic pain, while Mirella is a neural stem cell expert. Based at the University of Wollongong, their collaboration focusses on cells called dorsal root ganglia sensory neurons. These cells sense pressure, temperature, position, touch and pain, and the duo believe they could hold the key to many neurological disorders including chronic pain.
“Many diseases and disorders are caused by altered firing of signals along sensory nerves. Growing human sensory neurons [from stem cells] means we can study their development and function in both health and disease,” says Mirella. Continue reading Modelling brain circuitry
Examining how individual heart cells develop is revealing how the cells make decisions to form a working heart.
Once an adult heart is damaged, it has no ability to heal itself. Dr Nathan Palpant at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland and Associate Professor Joseph Powell at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the University of New South Wales are trying to understand how that might be changed by tracking individual stem cells along their journey to becoming heart cells.
“Heart development is a difficult and complicated process, but we think the answers to heart repair are likely to lie in understanding heart development,” Nathan says. “So we are using stem cells to model development as it occurs in our bodies.” Continue reading Studying heart development one cell at a time
Genomic biologist Professor Christine Wells and biostatistician Dr Kim-Anh Le Cao are analysing big data to discover what makes stem cells tick. Already the pair have found new ways to classify stem cells, and they’re working on predicting the cells’ behaviour and even creating custom immune cells.
Christine directs Stemformatics, an online encyclopaedia of hundreds of high-quality stem cell studies from other researchers vetted and archived by Christine’s team. They’ve amassed an enormous amount of data about genetic activity in certain stem cell types at many stages of development.
To find trends across the studies, Christine called on Kim-Anh’s statistical expertise. Continue reading Big data points the way to custom stem cells
The eye’s cornea depends on stem cells to help maintain transparency. If disease or trauma deplete stem cell reservoirs, a rapid and painful loss of vision soon follows.
Professor Stephanie Watson and Professor Nick Di Girolamo have used stem cells to repair their patients’ vision. It’s the culmination of a 15-year collaboration to restore sight in Australians with corneal disease.
Stephanie is an international leader in research and innovation with the University of Sydney and is also a practising corneal surgeon. She met Nick as an early career scientist through a research group at the University of New South Wales and they discovered their shared interest. Nick is now a Director with the School of Medical Sciences at UNSW. Continue reading Clearing corneas and restoring vision
The brain’s specialist cleaning cells play a key role in neurodegenerative diseases, and they may also hold the secret to new treatments for the likes of MS and Alzheimer’s.
Professor Colin Pouton and his team at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences found a way to isolate microglia, the immune cells of the brain, from stem cells. Better yet, they made the cells fluorescent so their activity can be tracked, opening up new avenues of research.
Professor Trevor Kilpatrick and his colleagues at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health think Colin’s engineered cells just might be the key to creating a revolutionary treatment for multiple sclerosis. Continue reading Enlisting the brain’s immune cells to fight MS
Stem cells are being used to rapidly test and improve treatments for cataracts, thanks to an innovative solution developed by Dr Michael O’Connor and his team from Western Sydney University.
With novel stem cell technology, Michael has created hundreds of thousands of micro-lenses similar to the ones in the human eye. These micro-lenses offer a way to rapidly improve drug research and offer the potential for lens cell transplants in the future.
Billions of dollars are spent each year around the world on cataract surgery, and hundreds of millions of dollars treating resulting complications. Continue reading Micro-lenses bring new cataract treatments in sight
For the past decade scientists have been able to reprogram skin cells, nasal cells and other mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells that can turn into any cell type in the human body. How it works is only starting to become clear.
Teams led by Professors Ryan Lister at the University of Western Australia, Jose Polo at Monash University and Ernst Wolvetang at The University of Queensland are working together to understand how this process occurs, whether all cell types follow the same path to becoming pluripotent cells, and if this impacts their ability to mimic disease in the laboratory.
Through a series of collaborations over the last ten years the scientists have uncovered a number of stem cell secrets, opening the door for more targeted research and, ultimately, treatments for diseases. Continue reading How reprogramming cells turns back time
Professor James Bourne and his team are laying the groundwork for using stem cell transplants to treat brain trauma with the discovery of an anti-scarring agent and new biomaterials to support transplanted cells.
“What we’re doing is a prelude to direct stem cell research. We hope to give potential stem cell therapies for brain trauma the best chance of success,” James says.
He and his team at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University are studying nonhuman primates to understand how to create the best environments for repair after brain injury. Continue reading Building tools for brain repair
People suffering from serious illnesses are turning to unproven and risky stem cell therapies in growing numbers. Researchers are trying to understand why—and how to provide better information and support.
Stem cells have been saving lives for decades, largely through bone marrow and cord blood transplants treating leukaemia and other blood diseases. Unproven treatments are booming, however, with clinics in Australia and around the world spruiking cures for conditions from osteoarthritis and MS to dementia and diabetes.
Associate Professor Megan Munsie and her colleagues in Stem Cells Australia’s Engagement, Ethics and Policy Program have heard many tales of patients spending thousands of dollars on treatments that often have no benefit and may be harmful or even deadly. Continue reading “Who will help me?”