Stem cell research and its cures bring global challenges

By: Michelle Henderson
16 July, 2012

A world-renowned Australian stem cell expert says it's crucial that any potential cures using the technology are available globally, particularly in developing countries.

Professor Alan Trounson heads the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, which is advancing towards a cure for conditions including HIV and diabetes.

Prof Trounson, the former director of Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories in Melbourne, said the research institute's work towards a HIV cure was about to enter human trials.

He said if the trials were successful further research would be needed to modify the technology so it could be affordably used where it is needed most, in Africa.

"I want the HIV work to go globally because it shouldn't be restricted to patients in Western (countries)," Prof Trounson told reporters.

"We're going to have to modify some of that further research to get it into a suitable treatment that we can use in Africa.

"I'm very hopeful that the industry will do that.

"We have to try and make these as available to people as possible."

Prof Trounson said the HIV research uses blood stem cells to mimic a gene mutation found in a small proportion of the population who are immune to the virus.

The approach is based on the case of an American, known as the Berlin patient, who was cured of HIV after receiving a life-saving bone marrow transplant to treat leukaemia from a donor who carried the HIV-immune mutation.

The institute is also using embryonic stem cells to try and cure blindness caused by macular degeneration and to develop insulin-producing cells for type 1 diabetes sufferers, Prof Trounson said.

Meanwhile, new drug treatments for cancer have been developed using stem cells which are now being tested on patients, said Prof Trounson.

However, even if the trials are successful it could be six to seven years before those treatments are widely available to patients, he said.

Source: AAP