Western Sydney University welcomes $150 million national funding boost for stem cell research

Image: Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt

Western Sydney University has joined a strong and united stem cell community to welcome $150 million in Federal Government funding, over the next ten years, towards research into new ways to treat congenital heart disease, blindness, stroke, dementia and kidney disease.

The Australian Stem Cell Therapies Mission, funded through a Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant, will enable critical stem cell research to continue.

As a partner of the research consortium, Stem Cells Australia, Western Sydney University recognises this as a major boost to researchers working on stem cells and regenerative medicine.

Dr Michael O’Connor from Western’s School of Medicine and Translational Health Research Institute (THRI) – and one of the Chief Investigators at Stem Cell Australia – said this new funding is testament to Australia’s strength in the field.

“Stem cell science has the potential to transform healthcare in Australia and beyond, by making transformative impacts on the quality of life of people living with a range of debilitating conditions,” he said.

Dr O’Connor leads a team at Western using novel stem cell technology to rapidly test and improve treatments for cataracts. His team is working to develop potential new treatments that could significantly improve the lives of children and adults with cataracts, thanks to their development of a world-first process able to generate light-focusing lenses from stem cells.

This discovery – published in Development and led by Dr O’Connor – enables his team to make thousands of human micro-lenses in the lab that are highly similar to lenses in the eye; a process which could prove life changing for millions of people who are blind or have low vision due to cataract.

“While my research offers hope for transformation in treatments and better outcomes for children and adults with cataracts, more funding would provide greater opportunities for getting this research through to the clinical trial stage and, in turn, have greater impact,” said Dr O’Connor.

Director of Western Sydney University’s Translational Health Research Institute, Professor Janette Perz, said the University’s engagement with Stem Cell Australia and the stem cell community more broadly also speaks to Western’s dedication to multidisciplinary, community-engaged and world-class research.

“Western’s research doesn’t just happen in labs; as a young and innovative university one of our strengths is an ability to connect high-quality research with the communities that need it most. As we join Australia’s stem cell community in progressing the clinical and commercial translation of the latest research, Western will be dedicated to ensuring equity in health care, research excellence and a strong connection to local and global communities,” said Professor Perz.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said stem cell medicine is poised to become a core part of mainstream health care: “It will transform the lives of people with incurable diseases.”

“We are ready: the science is ready, having progressed phenomenally over the past 10 years. The industry is ready, with appropriate standards in place,” he said.

“Australia is ready – our stem cell capability is world-class, mature and well-connected. The Australian Government is ready – we will work closely with other stakeholders to ensure the potential of stem cell medicine is unlocked. Partnerships will be vital, along with ongoing research.”


18 March 2019

Emma Sandham, Senior Media Officer