Stem cell therapies receive MRFF funding

Associate Professor Rebecca Lim has been awarded more than $470,000 from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund to pursue research into stem cell therapies for liver disease.

A/Prof Lim leads the Regenerative Medicine and Cellular Therapies group at Hudson Institute. Together with Monash University, Obstetrics and Gynaecology (Material Science and Engineering) and Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, she was awarded the $472,680 Department of Health funding to work on gastroenterology, regenerative medicine and cellular biology (including stem cells and tissue engineering).

The Stem Cell Therapies Mission is funded via the MRFF and will invest $150 million over nine years to develop innovative, safe and effective treatments accessible to all Australians who need them.

Childhood cancer

Congratulations also to our collaborators, the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Haematology Oncology Group (ANZCHOG), who were awarded three MRFF grants, totalling $1,965,011 for their studies on childhood brain cancer. The three trials were funded through the MRFF Clinical Trials Activity (Rare Cancers, Rare Diseases and Unmet Need) – Childhood Brain Cancer Opportunity, which will enable ANZCHOG to continue to provide Australian children diagnosed with brain cancer access to innovative clinical trials.

CONNECT-1903 is an international study that will assess if treatment with lactrotrectinib is safe and can control the growth of tumours in children with high grade gliomas. The second international study is the MET-MED trial, examining if metformin can improve cognitive recovery in paediatric medulloblastoma patients. The final successful application, the TiNT Trial, is a phase II trial using trametinib (a promising MEK inhibitor) in patients with neurofibromatosis type 1 associated progressive optic pathway gliomas. This trial was designed and developed by Australian and New Zealand researchers, essential for capacity building and leading innovative trial research in the paediatric oncology space.

Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) – Stem Cell Therapies Mission

A/Prof Rebecca Lim, NHMRC MRFF, Stem Cell Therapies

Engineering a solution to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis through tuning substrate stiffness

Associate Professor Rebecca Lim

Liver disease is responsible for one quarter of all organ transplants in Australia and represents a significant healthcare burden. The most common liver disease is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which itself is benign but in association with chronic inflammation (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis; NASH), can progress to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

By 2020, NASH will have replaced hepatitis C as the number one reason for liver transplantation. There is no cure for NAFLD/NASH. Alternatives are urgently needed for patients with end stage NAFLD/NASH who are not candidates for liver transplantation or for whom no donor is available.

The research team aim to develop a multivalent therapeutic for this complex disease based on extracellular vesicles (EV) released by amniotic epithelial cells (hAEC) that addresses fibrosis, apoptosis, oxidative stress and endogenous repair.

Preliminary research has shown that EVs released by hAECs are anti-fibrotic and support the differentiation of liver progenitor cells, promoting recovery of liver function in chronic liver disease.

The team’s pilot data indicates that hAECs cultured on softer 3D microcarriers can significantly increase EV yield as well as biological potency compared to culture on traditional 2D tissue culture plastic.

They hypothesise that it is possible to tune the potency of hAEC-EVs by manipulating mechanotransduction through culture on softer microcarriers which are specifically functionalised to improve anti-fibrotic effects for NAFLD/NASH.

The aim is to

(i) Develop a novel method of hAEC-EV manufacturing for optimal EV yield and potency through the manipulation of microcarrier stiffness and functionalisation and;

(ii) Evaluate an oral formulation of hAEC-EVs against competitor treatments in preclinical mouse model of NASH.

The team brings combined expertise of hAEC and EV biology, materials science, NAFLD/NASH management and clinical translation to address this urgent unmet medical need.

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