2018 Metcalf Prizes — winners announced
Dr Heather Lee and Enzo Porrello have received the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s 2018 Metcalf Prizes.
Both the researchers have been awarded $50,000 in recognition of their early-career leadership in stem cell research.
Heather Lee is a Cancer Institute NSW Fellow at Hunter Medical Research Institute and the University of Newcastle and Enzo Porrello is Group Leader of Cardiac Regeneration at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne.
Lee invented a way to study the genetics of individual cells more closely that will help her find out why some cancer cells are treatable and others go rogue. With her new technique, she can see the chemical ‘flags’ that tell the cell how to interpret its genetic code. At the same time, she can watch how those instructions are — or aren’t — carried out.
Lee and other scientists use the technique to study what makes rogue cancer cells different at a genetic level. She is now studying cells from patients with acute myeloid leukaemia to see how just a few cells can resist treatment and go on to cause a fatal relapse. She hopes this will lead to new, more effective drug treatments for this devastating disease.
For a few short days after birth, the heart can regenerate damaged tissue.
Associate Professor Enzo Porrello is exploring newborn heart development to develop heart attack drugs and engineer ‘artificial pumps’ from patient stem cells. Porrello wants to understand why this ability turns off, so that he and colleagues can switch it back on to heal broken hearts.
Understanding regeneration could lead to new treatments for different types of heart disease, the world’s biggest killer, from birth defects to heart attacks late in life. “I recently showed that the hearts of newborn mice can regenerate after a heart attack,” Porrello said.
“But this self-healing ability rapidly diminishes in the days after birth.”
Porrello thinks there is a similar capacity in humans. He is using stem cells to recreate the development of the heart in the lab to study the processes and the genes involved in turning self-healing on and off. He wants to develop drugs that can stimulate heart muscle cells to rebuild after a heart attack.
He is also part of a new consortium that aims to engineer new working heart tissue to treat children with heart disease, made from their own stem cells.
“We hope that supporting Heather Lee’s work will help her share a valuable new technique for cancer researchers, and that Enzo Porrello’s work will help us tackle Australia’s biggest killer,” said Dr Graeme Blackman, AO, the Chairman of the Foundation.
The awards are named for the late Professor Donald Metcalf AC. Over his 50-year career, he helped transform cancer treatment and transplantation medicine, and paved the way for potential stem cell therapy in the treatment of many other conditions.
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