Leading adult stem cell researchers will converge at Griffith University, Brisbane this week for an international conference revealing breakthroughs from around the world in this exciting frontier science.

Adult stem cell therapies returned to the headlines this week when British, Spanish and Italian researchers reconstructed a woman’s trachea from her own adult stem cells.

National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research Director Dr Alan Mackay-Sim said this was just one of a range of exciting directions in which the science was heading.

“Adult stem cells therapies are developing in a wide range of exciting directions in many different parts of the world,” he said.

“In the Barcelona case, adult stem cells were used as ‘seeds’ grown around the structure of a donor trachea which had its own cells removed. Similar techniques have been used successfully elsewhere to grow new hearts in rat models. These experiments point the way to making all sorts of new organs and tissues.

“In Brisbane we’re developing methods for cell transplants to repair the injured spinal cord and for treatment of brain diseases, such as Parkinson’s Disease. We are also establishing a stem cell bank from patients to ‘model’ brain diseases and discover new drugs.”

The conference will showcase new research and clinical trial results from around the world, with the opening address given by past Australian of the Year Dr Fiona Wood. Dr Wood will speak on the potential of stem cells for scar-free healing of burned and damaged skin.

Other important research to be presented includes:

– Corneal reconstruction with tissue-engineered cells – Kohji Nishida, Japan: A project aiming to replace the need for corneal transplants (which the body can reject) by growing corneal tissue from stem cells from the patient’s skin from the oral cavity.

– Stem cell therapies in a rodent model of traumatic hearing loss – Sharon Oleskevitch, Australia: Project uses adult olfactory stem cells to re-grow the sensory hair cells of the ear that are destroyed by loud noise and do not naturally regrow. This is the main cause of acquired hearing loss.

– What can stem cells tell us about schizophrenia? – John McGrath, Australia: Disruptions of early brain development influence susceptibility to schizophrenia, but early brain development is difficult to observe. This project used olfactory stem cells cells as a ‘window’ into brain development and a possible predictor of schizophrenia.

– Use of stem cells and biomaterials for the treatment of spinal cord injury — E. Sykova, Czech Republic: Artificial scaffolds made of nano-sized fibres were seeded with stem cells and used to bridge the gap in the spinal cord significantly enhancing functional recovery.

The event is hosted by the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research and will be held at Griffith University Southbank Campus. Full abstracts, media passes and interviews available.