Research Update: Professor Simon Koblar

By Professor Simon Koblar

I spent some of the Australian summer working in the UK, at the University of Cambridge. On the way there I was in New Orleans for an American conference on stroke to discuss new ideas with colleagues on how stem cells work in the brain.

It was a hectic time but sharing the latest in research with others who have the same passion is invaluable. In Cambridge I was asked to speak on how stem cells from our teeth could assist in repairing the brain after stroke.

Whilst there I had interesting discussions with Professors James Fawcett and Stefano Pluchino, who work at the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair and are world-class scientists. I previously met both scientists there in 2010 and we have since continued working together to try and understand how stem cells may repair the brain. Answering this fundamental question is crucial, as it will allow us to improve ways to use stem cells in the future.

I have recently received excellent news that our three year studies into how Dental Pulp Stem Cells (DPSCs) can be used for to improve the brain following a stroke has been accepted for publication in a journal called Stem Cells Translational Medicine. We have argued that there are a number of advantages that make DPSCs perhaps better than other types of stem cells for future clinical use. Firstly, they do not have the ethical and political issues that are inherent to embryonic stem cell use. Secondly, they are easily obtained from the tooth. Thirdly, they have a natural potential to form brain cells and interact with the brain. Finally, to date, there is no evidence that adult stem cells have a risk of tumour formation, which is present for embryonic stem cells.

Taking into consideration the advantages of DPSCs we are very pleased that an Australian biotechnology company, Mesoblast, has agreed to partner with the University of Adelaide to use our findings to plan future pre-clinical and clinical studies.

However, they will still need to draw heavily from our own findings, both current and ongoing. The main focus from funds raised through the Peter Couche Foundation will continue our critical DPSC research.

In 2012 we will work towards comparing our results from direct injection of DPSCs into the brain 24 hours following a stroke, with new work into intravenous injections. This is important, as it will be much safer for patients to have an injection of stem cells into the arm vein rather than in the brain following a stroke. In our studies this year we will also investigate if later intravenous injection of stem cells (2 weeks after a stroke) will be effective. Exciting work!

Finally, I am very pleased to inform you that Dr Karlea Kremer has been awarded the inaugural Peter Couche Foundation Fellowship. Dr Kremer is one of the few young scientists in Australia who has expertise both in animal stroke and stem cell research. To keep brilliant young scientists in Adelaide and Australia to pursue our studies is vital.