Monash researcher awarded Metcalf Prize for Stem Cell Research

Dr Tracy Heng

Monash University researcher Dr Tracy Heng has been awarded the prestigious 2016 Metcalf Prize for Stem Cell Research, supported by the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.

Awarded this week, the Metcalf Prize for Stem Cell Research recognises exceptional mid-career stem cell researchers in Australia and is presented to one male and one female researcher each year.

Dr Heng, from Monash’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute, won the award for her research in developing new strategies to improve stem cell transplantation in the aged.

Patients who suffer from forms of blood cancers and other non-cancerous blood diseases are often treated with either radiation or chemotherapy. This effectively kills off both the healthy immune cells as well as the cancerous ones, which are replaced with donor stem cells that can repopulate the patient’s immune system. While successful, both irradiation and chemotherapy can be debilitating, and older patients often take longer to recover. During this period, patients are vulnerable to deadly infections.

Dr Heng has developed a regime whereby gentle chemotherapy is used to remove only the bone marrow stem cells in the patient, so that new stem cells transferred from a donor can be taken up in the bone marrow.

Dr Heng explained how this regime worked well when tested in young mice but was less effective in older mice.

“To translate this therapy to older patients, who would benefit most, we need to work out how to improve this regime in aged mice,” Dr Heng said.

Dr Heng will use the prize money of $50,000 to drive her research at the interface of stem cells and immunity to advance stem cell-based therapies.

"I am tremendously honoured that the Australian stem cell community has recognised my research achievements and potential. I am very excited to be part of the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, which has been highly supportive of my research aimed at improving stem cell therapies in adult and elderly patients,” Dr Heng said.

About the Metcalf Prize for Stem Cell Research

The prizes are dedicated to the remarkable contribution made to stem cell research by Emeritus Professor Donald Metcalf AC FRS FAA. They support the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s mission to ‘promote the study and use of stem cells in the prevention or control of disease in human beings and to enhance stem cell public education’.