While stem cell therapy has been part of medical practice for decades in the form of bone marrow transplantation and other treatments, recent advances have led to a revolution in biology and medicine that has not yet peaked. A key advance has been the development of human pluripotent stem cells. There is also a broadening awareness that all adult solid organs and soft tissues contain stem and progenitor cells that likely contribute to tissue homeostasis and repair after injury.
Stem cell science seeks to detail the diverse functions and regulation of stem cells in both developing and adult tissues. It aims to harness the knowledge learned for the creation of a new spectrum of therapies for genetic, injury, lifestyle and age-related diseases. Vigorous activity now occurs in all sectors of the basic and translational sciences surrounding stem cells. This activity interfaces with similar transformations occurring in genomics and epigenomics, human disease modelling and personalised medicine. Progress is welcomed and closely monitored by Australian patients and their families who see stem cell science and regenerative medicine as a means to alleviate their suffering.
It is imperative that the Australian science and biomedical research communities engage in stem cell research at the highest level to remain competitive internationally. It is unthinkable that Australia should fall short of contributing to the development of stem cell therapies and allied industries that will be part of precision and personalised medicine in the future. We would also leave Australians with the perception that they are being denied potentially life-saving treatments.
In the current austere science funding environment, Australia must find the right balance for the future of stem cell science. How can we support and reward innovation in stem cell science? How can we facilitate the translation of discoveries into the clinic? How can we meet patient expectations while at the same time curb exploitative commercialisation of unproven stem cell therapies? How can the new generations of stem cell researchers with unique hybrid skill sets forge a career pathway?
The 2015 Theo Murphy High Flyers Think Tank will seek evidence-based policy solutions for these and other issues facing stem cell science in Australia.
© 2021 Australian Academy of Science