A Eureka moment for blood stem cells

Garvan's Dr Georgina Hollway, and Dr Phong Nguyen and Professor Peter Currie from Melbourne’s Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) at Monash University, are finalists in the 2015 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, nominated for their groundbreaking research into stem cell generation.
A Eureka moment for blood stem cells
24 July 2015

Dr Georgina Hollway, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and Dr Phong Nguyen and Professor Peter Currie from Melbourne’s Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University are finalists in the 2015 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, nominated for their groundbreaking research into stem cell generation.

The team has uncovered a mechanism essential for the formation of haematopoietic stem cells, a very special group of cells that ultimately generate all the blood and immune cells in our bodies. 

The finding, which was published last year in the prestigious journal Nature, moves us closer to one of the Holy Grails of modern medicine – being able to make haematopoietic stem cells in the laboratory. 

The team noticed that a muscle-deficient zebrafish strain, which have a deficit of muscle stem cells, have several times the normal population of haematopoietic stem cells.

In trying to understand this apparent link between the two stem cell populations, they identified a novel gene that acts like a molecular switch in a compartment of the early embryo.  Cells of this compartment migrate during development and signal to induce the cells around them to become nascent haematopoietic stem cells.

“We now know that these migratory cells are essential in the formation of haematopoietic stem cells, and we have described some of the molecular processes involved,” said Dr Hollway. 

A freely-available supply of these blood stem cells would be of enormous therapeutic benefit for treating a wide range of diseases, including cancers and other disorders of the blood and immune system.

Presented annually by the Australian Museum, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership, science communication and journalism and school science. Drs Hollway and Nguyen and Professor Currie are finalists for the 2015 UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research.  

“Being selected as a finalist for an Australian Museum Eureka Prize is very exciting and a wonderful recognition of our hard work,” said Dr Hollway.

“This work is complex but it’s vital that we communicate with the public about what is happening here. Being recognised at these prestigious awards will help us to achieve that,” added Professor Currie.

Dr Hollway is one of two Garvan scientists nominated for Eureka Prizes, the other being Dr Seán O’DonoghueWinners of this year’s prizes will be announced at an Award Dinner on Wednesday 26 August at Sydney Town Hall.

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