Victoria and California Form Stem Cell Alliance

(Note: This story was revised at 9.30 pm U.S. EDT on 21 May to correct some inaccuracies.)

Scientific partnerships between countries don't always have to involve national governments; state governments can do it too. Take the example of California, U.S., and Victoria, Australia, which are pooling money to fund stem cell research.

At this week’s BIO 2009 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Victorian Innovation Minister Gavin Jennings announced four collaborative grants between Victorian and Californian teams. They are a subset of the 15 grants announced last week by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to expedite the translation of stem cell research into the clinic. The Victorian government is contributing U.S.$5 million for the four projects; California, as much as $24 million. The collaborations involve the Australian Stem Cell Centre (ASCC), Monash University, and the Florey Neuroscience Institutes. The grants augur well for the future of the embattled ASCC, which fielded three of the four grants. And there are other indications that ASCC is back on track: A new board and chairperson was announced on 8 May, and the federal government is due to make a decision on a new strategic plan for the center by June.

The CIRM funding increases the ties between Californian and Australian stem cell science. In the past 3 years, the state has lured two key members of the Victorian team that produced the world’s second human embryonic stem cell line. Martin Pera became director of the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Southern California, and Alan Trounson took on the presidency of CIRM itself.

Three of the four projects receiving CIRM money capitalize on Victoria’s expertise at finding markers for differentiated stem cells versus cells that still have tumor-forming potential. A fourth capitalizes on a novel approach to retrain the immune system to accept foreign grafts.

The California-Australia collaborative projects are case studies in how to put together the components of the translational pipeline, say those involved. “Each step fits together like a jigsaw puzzle,” says Malcolm Horne, deputy director of the Florey Neuroscience Institutes. “Connecting to the international community is good for Australia—there’s less inducement for Australian scientists to move,” adds Trounson.

Victoria may be the first to win CIRM money, but Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Japan are also in the running for such collaborations. “This is the beginning of global integration; we’re trying to link worldwide to have a bigger impact in a shorter time,” says Trounson.

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