New cell research centre to open for business

By Tanya Hollis
Thursday, 28 March, 2002

Creating artificial organs to help ease the transplantation demand gap is the ultimate aim of Australia's new centre for cell engineering.

Collaborators on the National Centre of Advanced Cell Engineering yesterday said they were close to finalising the details of the initiative, which is expected to begin research work in June.

The centre, based at Melbourne's Monash University, will give researchers access to the 10 embryonic stem cell colonies held by BresaGen (ASX: BGN) and ES Cell International.

BresaGen CEO Dr John Smeaton said the centre was being established with $5.5 million announced in August last year from the federal government's Major National Research Facilities initiative, as well as cash from Monash, and the two collaborating companies.

"It is trying to take some of the opportunities offered with stem cell work further and, taking a very long-term view, using technology such as scaffolding and nanotechnology to see if you can build artificial organs or new organs and other far-reaching research," Smeaton said.

He said the companies would also provide basic services to the research community, such as providing access to stem cell lines and training in the handling and growing of the cells.

Smeaton said the centre would mostly work on new projects, with about eight proposals currently being considered and prioritised.

He said some of the company's existing work, such as in the area of cell reprogramming, might be redirected into the centre.

While agreement had been reached on most issues, Smeaton said the group was in the final stages of ironing out areas spanning intellectual property and commercial rights.

The 10 lines to be provided by ES Cell International and BresaGen are among 64 existing lines worldwide listed with the National Institutes of Health in the United States.

Speaking at the time the initiative was announced last year, Smeaton said "We are encouraged by this significant Government commitment to infrastructure to support our research." He said the government recognised Australia's leadership in the field of ES cell research.

"The collaborative research undertaken in the new centre will bring together the best Australian scientists working on embryonic stem cells and should ensure that companies such as BresaGen and ES Cell International can more rapidly advance their technologies," said Smeaton.

The National Centre of Advanced Cell Engineering is expected to work in with Neurosciences Australia and the proposed Centre for Stem Cells and Tissue Repair, which is currently vying for Biotechnology Centre of Excellence backing.

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