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Australia's stem cell scientists set for rege -

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PETER CAVE: There's a sense of renewal and regeneration amongst Australia's stem cell scientists
today.

Last year the Federal Government threatened to shut down its main research body, the Australian
Stem Cell Centre, because of mismanagement.

But the centre has a new CEO and board and today it's releasing its five year plan aimed at
building on Australia's strengths in the field.

It's also detailed funding for 32 projects that include plans to try to use stem cells to
eventually diagnose schizophrenia, to mend bones and to treat gum disease.

Meredith Griffiths reports.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: It's been a bumpy ride for stem cell researchers in Australia.

As well as the political and ethical stoushes over the technology, the future of the research
seemed at risk last year when the Government threatened to stop funding the Australian Stem Cell
Centre which had been set up in 2002.

Board member Christopher Juttner says the centre had to rethink its direction after the CEO and
board resigned.

Today it's releasing a five year strategic plan and announcing a new portfolio of 32 research
projects. Christopher Juttner says the new plan will make it easier for stem cell researchers to
work together.

CHRISTOPHER JUTTNER: The reason is that building on the considerable strengths in stem cell
research in Australia, and Australia does have considerable strengths, we want to see the centre
beyond 2011 having a legacy based on really having established a new way for stem cell research to
work in this field, providing also some core activities that will support stem cell research for
everybody who is working in that field.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Has the centre actually been able to attract any new scientists in the past few
months or the past year because of this new management approach?

CHRISTOPHER JUTTNER: Yes, absolutely. There are numbers of people, I think around a third, who
haven't previously been linked to the Stem Cell Centre.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The centre's research will now be organised through four collaborative streams.

Professor Andrew Elefanty from Monash University will be running the section using embryonic stem
cells.

It's received funding for eight projects including a new cardiac program but will also be able to
build on areas of strength.

Professor Elefanty says his lab has been making blood cells for many years but will now be able to
intensify its search for therapeutic benefits.

ANDREW ELEFANTY: One will be trying to make new blood stem cells which can be used in the case of
patients who need a bone marrow transplant but happen not to have a suitable donor.

And the other sort of major area of application of making blood cells is actually making mature
cells, mature red blood cells which carry oxygen around or mature neutrophils which help to find
infection, because there are a number of clinical conditions in both cases where patients have an
inadequacy of red cells and an inadequacy of their white cells.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Associate Professor Ernst Wolvetang from the University of Queensland will be
leading the group looking at induced pluripotent cells. These are adult cells that are reprogrammed
to act like embryonic stem cells and turn into any type of tissue the body needs.

Dr Ernst Wolvetang says some of his researchers will now be able to try to work out what causes
schizophrenia by taking cells from people with the mental illness

ERNST WOLVETANG: We are now going to take skin cells of those people and turn them into these
primitive iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells and we make neuronal cells out of them, so brain
cells, and then ask the question at what stage these cells start to show schizophrenia-like gene
expression changes.

One, it would be a way to really pinpoint gene expression changes that could be used for diagnosis.
But even more excitingly we will be able to use those cells to screen for drugs that may be able to
revert those changes in gene expression.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: While the Australian Stem Cell Centre has laid out its plan for five years,
board member Christopher Juttner says its funding is only guaranteed for the next two.

CHRIS JUTTNER: So that we are in conversation with the Federal Government about continuing some
level of funding. We have always been encouraging the researchers to seek funding from outside
sources and they have been successful in achieving funding from outside sources. So, that we've got
to work towards a viable transition where if there is no further Federal Government funding the
research will be able to continue with competitive grants.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: It's a lengthy process to make sure stem cell therapy is safe and efficient so
clinical applications are still years away and scientists will be watching closely when the first
trial on humans starts in the US later this year.

PETER CAVE: Meredith Griffiths.