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New Lease on Life for Australian Stem Cell Centre

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—The Australian Stem Cell Centre (ASCC) hopes that a new business plan will help it regain momentum in the last 2 years of its term. The plan, announced today, would shift ASCC’s emphasis from commercialization to research. “I’m extremely pleased,” says Ernst Wolvetang, who directs ASCC’s program on induced pluripotent stem cells. “It’s a testament to the revamped ASCC that it’s truly inclusive of a wide range of new initiatives.”

ASCC, a $90 million government-funded center of excellence, was created in 2002 to get Australian stem cell researchers working together and to commercialize their findings. Differences of opinion on how to achieve those dual goals have roiled the center since its inception. With 2 years and $25 million of funding left, the stakeholders—nine universities and institutes—earlier this year drafted a plan that called for forging large-scale collaborations.

With the government’s stamp of approval, ASCC this week unveiled a revised plan with collaborations in four broad research streams as its centerpiece:

  • “Bioreactors and Smart Surfaces,” led by Peter Gray of the University of Queensland in Brisbane
  • “Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells,” led by Wolvetang
  • “Stem Cell Differentiation,” led by Andrew Elefanty of Monash University in Melbourne
  • “Adult Stem Cells,” led by Richard Harvey of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney

Researchers applaud the new atmosphere for cooperation. “ ‘Speed dating’ at the ASCC has been great” for arranging collaborations, says Douglas Hilton, director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, who is now working with Christine Wells of Griffith University in Brisbane and Sean Grimmond of the University of Queensland to develop a gene-expression database of 40 types of blood cells and stem cells.

Many researchers hope a revitalized ASCC will be in business beyond 2011, when its 9-year start-up grant from the government expires. “We hope this plan forms the basis for future funding of the ASCC or positions researchers to compete for the traditional funding sources,” says Joe Sambrook, ASCC’s scientific director. Adds Wolvetang, “We have the right model this time.”