A roadmap for Australian stem cell science

Monday, 21 March, 2016

Scientists have created a map for the future of Australian stem cell science, saying the country has the potential to revolutionise medicine and become a world leader in stem cell research.

A new report explains recent advancements and presents a roadmap for how Australia can safely and effectively take stem cell research from the lab bench to the hospital bed, and better regulate rogue stem cell therapists offering unproven and possibly risky therapies for commercial gain.

It recommends clinical trials as the main route to prove the effectiveness of possible new treatments; a national centre to help accelerate the translation of clinical discoveries; and stem cell banks with relevant clinical and genomics data to help facilitate research.

“We can make organs in a dish and correct disease-causing genetic defects in a patient’s own cells,” said the co-chair of the report’s steering committee, Professor Richard Harvey.

“We must continue to strategically support this vital area and see it as priority area of research for Australia if we are to reap the benefits for humanity, save on our healthcare bill and continue to be a world leader.”

The report also addresses the rise of stem cell tourism and the regulatory environment that allows practitioners to offer unproven therapies to treat everything from sports injuries to cancer, autism and Alzheimer’s disease. The Australian Academy of Science last year expressed concern about the regulatory loophole that allows the sale of these kinds of therapies without first proving that they are safe and effective.

“Without more clinical trials to test new treatments in Australia, patients may be tempted to seek out unproven therapies, at home or overseas, which can cost anything between $10,000 and $60,000 and may not work or may even make people even more ill,” Professor Harvey said.

The report ‘The Stem Cell Revolution: Lessons and Imperatives for Australia’ is based on a think tank convened by the Australian Academy of Science last year with support from the Theo Murphy (Australia) Fund. It was developed with input from world experts.

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