IMAGINE having a personal body repair kit, one you can dip into to repair spinal cord damage, a heart attack or even brain cells destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease. According to stem cell scientist Ernst Wolvetang this isn’t science fiction. “It’s becoming technically possible,” says Professor Wolvetang, head of the Stem Cell Engineering Group at The University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).

Based on innovative research conducted by Professor Wolvetang’s group, this biological repair kit shows the potential of stem cell science to have a major impact on the health and economic wellbeing of Australians. This will be the focus of discussion at a special event hosted by the AIBN on 14 May: Translating Stem Cell Research into Real Health and Economic Benefits.

Moderated by ABC broadcaster Dr Norman Swan, this Global Leadership Series event will tackle key questions. Where is stem cell science today? How is it being translated into therapies? What are the current regulatory and philosophical issues facing scientists as they work to move their scientific insights into commercial products.

As Professor Wolvetang says, “The potential to change genes at will in a patient’s own stem cells raises a whole new set of ethical questions surrounding stem cell-based therapies”.

An internationally respected panel of researchers with a broad range of expertise will join Professor Wolvetang to debate these matters. Among them is the AIBN’s Associate Professor Christine Wells, an internationally respected authority on stem cell biology and the genetic manipulation of the body’s natural immunity.

Host, AIBN Director Professor Peter Gray, brings extensive commercial experience in the US and Australia, along with hands-on laboratory research in Australia, California and the UK. Like Professor Gray, panellist Martin Pera – Melbourne-based leader of the multi-university body Stem Cells Australia - has worked in the US. Both have provided extensive advice to state, national and international regulatory authorities on the scientific background to human embryonic stem cell research.

Professor Pera’s expertise fits neatly with that of the final panellist Alan Trounson, a pioneer in human in vitro fertilisation as well as stem cell science. Professor Trounson straddles the research-industry divide. As president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine from 2007-2014, Professor Trounson advanced stem cell science internationally. Today, he is co-founder of Melbourne biotechnology start-up company Cartherics Pty. Ltd.

According to Professor Trounson, stem cell science is central to Australia’s globally respected biotechnology industry. As Australia’s resources industry wanes, “a strong biotechnology industry is the best place to deliver jobs, innovation and new technology,” he says.

How? Join the panel at the cutting edge of the science.


Dr Norman Swan
ABC Radio National

Dr Norman Swan hosts The Health Report on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National, and Tonic on ABC News24 (Television). The Health Report is probably the world’s longest running health programme and Norman has won many awards for his work including Australia’s top prize for journalism, the Gold Walkley. He trained in medicine in Scotland and paediatrics in London and Sydney before joining the ABC and has hosted many other programmes on radio and television. He ran Radio National in the early 90s and created shows such as RN Breakfast, Life Matters and Late Night Live with Phillip Adams. Norman has also been the medical host on Channel Ten’s Biggest Loser for the past five seasons. Norman created, wrote and narrated Invisible Enemies, a four part series on disease and civilisation for Channel 4 UK and broadcast in 27 countries.
He has consulted to the World Health Organisation and, for example, co-chaired a global meeting of health ministers in Bamako West Africa focused on evidence based policy and priorities in health research.


Professor Alan Trounson
Emeritus Professor, Monash University
Distinguished Scientist, MIMR-PHI Institute for Medical Research, Melbourne
CEO Cartherics Pty Ltd

Alan was President of the Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine (for 6.5 years; 2007-2014) the Californian state’s $3 billion stem cell agency driving research in stem cell biology and facilitating the translation of stem cell discoveries into clinical therapies.

He was the founding Director of the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories at Monash University (2004-07). He has founded seven for-profit life science companies and the National Biotechnology Centre of Excellence - Australian Stem Cell Centre (2002-03). He held a Chair in Paediatrics/Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and also a Chair in Stem Cell Science at Monash University. He was Director of the Monash Centre for Early Human Development 1985-2002 and founding Deputy Director/Director of the Institute for Reproductive Biology 1990- 2002

He was a pioneer of human in vitro fertilisation (IVF), introducing fertility drugs for controlling ovulation, embryo freezing techniques, egg and embryo donation methods, early sperm microinjection methods, initiated embryo biopsy, developing in vitro oocyte maturation methods and the vitrification of eggs and embryos. He led the Australian/Singapore team for the discovery of human embryonic stem cells in the late 1990’s.

He founded the company Cartherics Pty Ltd for immuno-cell therapeutics with Richard Boyd, Robert Moses and Ian Nesbit (2014).

Professor Martin Pera
Program Leader of Stem Cells Australia (SCA).

Martin Pera is Professor of Stem Cell Sciences at the University of Melbourne, the Florey Neuroscience Institute, and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research. He serves as Program Leader for Stem Cells Australia, the Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative in Stem Cell Sciences. His research interests include the cell biology of human pluripotent stem cells, early human development, and germ cell tumours. Pera was among a small number of researchers who pioneered the isolation and characterisation of pluripotent stem cells from human germ cell tumours of the testis, work that provided an important framework for the development of human embryonic stem cells. His laboratory at Monash University was the second in the world to isolate embryonic stem cells from the human blastocyst, and the first to describe their differentiation into somatic cells in vitro. He has provided extensive advice to state, national and international regulatory authorities on the scientific background to human embryonic stem cell research. 

Professor Ernst Wolvetang

Professor Ernst Wolvetang is leading the derivation of footprint-free induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) in Australia, with a particular focus on neuronal and cardiac disease models. He is the inaugural Director of the collaborative reprogramming network Cell Reprogramming Australia and organises the only annual Australian iPSC workshop. Professor Wolvetang is a chief investigator at the Australian Research Council’s Special Research Initiative in Stem Cell Science, Stem Cells Australia and two National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) project grants (2013-2015).  

Associate Professor Christine Wells

Associate Professor Christine Wells is an internationally recognised pioneer of genomics in its application to innate immunity and stem cell biology. She has driven programs to identify the genetic elements which define the innate immune system, contribute to the regulation of immune genes and describe the functions of new gene products. During the past decade Associate Professor Wells has made key contributions to several seminal papers that mapped out mammalian genome architecture and transcriptional complexity. Through gene-discovery programs in macrophage biology she characterized a role for the C-type lectin Mincle in host-fungal interactions, and has identified a number of novel proteins that modify inflammatory signaling. Associate Professor Wells is leading international efforts to model robustness in gene regulatory networks, driving insight into impact of genetic and environmental variables. In 2011, she established – a collaborative hub for Australian and international stem cell researchers. 
Professor Peter Gray
Director, AIBN

Professor Peter Gray was appointed inaugural director of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at The University of Queensland in 2003. Previously he was Professor of Biotechnology and Director of the Bioengineering Centre at UNSW, and a Senior Principal Research Fellow at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

Professor Gray has had commercial experience in the USA working for Eli Lilly and Co and for the Cetus Corporation as well as previously holding academic positions at University College, London, and at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests are focussed on engineering mammalian cells to produce the complex proteins called biologics which are gaining rapid acceptance as human therapeutics, and on developing human stem cells bioprocesses suitable for clinical application. Professor Gray was one of the founders and is a past President of the Australian Biotechnology Association, AusBiotech. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) and of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, and has been named as one of Australia’s 100 Most Influential Engineers.

He is a Vice-President of ATSE, and serves on the Boards of Biopharmaceuticals Australia Pty Ltd, Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS), ACYTE Biotechnology Pty Ltd, Stem Cells Ltd, ECI Inc, New York, and a number of State and Federal Government Councils and Committees

About Global Leadership Series

The Global Leadership Series (GLS) is a lively program of events for alumni and community members. Join us for lectures and discussions with the best of the best UQ-related speakers on matters that impact your community and shape your ideas of the world.

The series is an opportunity for you to engage with great minds on global matters, participate in thought-provoking discussions and network with UQ alumni and community members. All alumni, parents, community members and friends are welcome to attend the Global Leadership Series events.

Listen to podcasts of previous GLS events click here