[ASC-media] Making eye cells from skin cells

Niall Byrne niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Mon Feb 18 05:22:21 CET 2013

Dear ASC'ers,

[cid:image003.png at 01CE0DEB.3BBB4F50]We launched  a new charity this morning: the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.

Their first grant is helping Melbourne researchers turn skin cells into eye cells to understand an incurable form of blindness that affects one in seven older Australians: age-related macular degeneration.

The new initiative was announced today at the launch of the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia, a new charity that is supporting stem cell research, and informing the community of the potential opportunities, and the present dangers of stem cell medicine.

The Foundation's first investment has brought Dr Kathryn Davidson, a young American stem cell expert, back to Melbourne and the Centre for Eye Research Australia. She hopes to help solve the mystery of what causes age-related macular degeneration, a common, incurable and poorly understood cause of blindness that costs the Australian economy $5.15 billion per year.

"We don't know for certain what's happening in the eye to cause macular degeneration," says Dr Davidson. "We know that certain retinal cells die, and so do the other cells that depend on them, but we need to know how and why. Then we can start to think about early diagnosis and treatment."

"We will take skin cells from the patient, turn them into stem cells and then into new retinal cells. Then we can compare these eye cells with damaged eye cells from the same patients and see what is happening," she says.

Family therapist and patient advocate Michelle Kornberg knows the fear that comes with deteriorating vision and a diagnosis of macular degeneration. "I was basically told 'you've got macular degeneration; you have a risk of losing your eye sight; there's nothing we can do,'" she said. "I started to study my kids, to remember what they looked like."

Michelle has participated in a laser treatment trial that has arrested the progress of macular degeneration, but may face vision loss in the future. "The thought of going blind is scary; not just losing your eye sight but the consequences of it too, like not being able to drive and the loss of some independence."

The Stem Cell Foundation has been established to support research efforts and provide much-needed public information about stem cell therapies. Kathryn is the Foundation's first research grant recipient.

"Stem cell medicine holds great potential but there are also real risks," says Foundation Chairman Dr Graeme Blackman.

"Many people are considering expensive and unproven stem cell therapies offered overseas without realising the risks of developing complications and even tumours," says Dr Blackman. "The Foundation will use the funds it raises to support researchers like Kathryn and also to provide the information patients need to make better treatment choices." A resource kit for patients is available on the Foundation's website.

"Australia has a remarkable record of leadership in stem cell science," he says. "We want to help Australian scientists turn the potential of stem cell medicine into reality."

Image created by vision impaired researcher and artist Erica Tandori. More details in the background.

For further information and interviews contact: Niall Byrne: 0417 131 977, niall at scienceinpublic.com.au<mailto:niall at scienceinpublic.com.au> or Emily Woodhams: 0408 370 959, emily.woodhams at unimelb.edu.au<mailto:emily.woodhams at unimelb.edu.au>,
and visit www.stemcellfoundation.net.au/news<http://www.stemcellfoundation.net.au/news>.
Kind regards,


Niall Byrne

Creative Director
Science in Public

82 Hudsons Road, Spotswood  Vic  3015
(PO Box 2076 Spotswood VIC 3015)
03 9398-1416, 03 9078-5398, 0417 131 977

niall at scienceinpublic.com.au<mailto:niall at scienceinpublic.com.au>
Twitter scienceinpublic

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