Troun­son stem-cell move puts us in the wings

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - Leigh Day­ton Science Writer

TECH­NI­CALLY, it’s a brain drain. But when Melbourne sci­en­tist Alan Troun­son takes over as the San Fran­cisco-based head of the world’s rich­est stem cell fund­ing out­fit next year, Aus­tralia stands to gain as much as it loses — pos­si­bly more. Science Min­is­ter Julie Bishop got it in one.

‘‘ Pro­fes­sor Troun­son’s ap­point­ment rep­re­sents a unique op­por­tu­nity for Aus­tralian re­searchers to col­lab­o­rate with coun­ter­parts in the United States and through­out the world,’’ she told Week­end Health.

‘‘ His strong knowl­edge of Aus­tralian re­search and sci­en­tists means there will be eas­ier ac­cess for our in­sti­tu­tions to the world’s largest stem cell re­search pro­gram.’’

In­dus­try Min­is­ter Ian Macfar­lane agreed: ‘‘ Pro­fes­sor Troun­son’s ap­point­ment will pro­vide Aus­tralian re­searchers with stronger links to in­ter­na­tional stem cell ini­tia­tives.’’ And for­mer Vic­to­rian Science Min­is­ter — now Pre­mier — John Brumby waxed lyri­cal, hail­ing Troun­son as an ‘‘ ex­cel­lent am­bas­sador’’ for the state’s sci­en­tific and med­i­cal re­search ex­per­tise.

He pre­dicted closer links be­tween the Gar­den State and the Golden State.

Only Health Min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott — a staunch op­po­nent of ES cell re­search — was rel­a­tively muted in his re­sponse to the news about the ap­point­ment of one of Aus­tralia’s own as pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute for Re­gen­er­a­tive Medicine (CIRM), the state agency with the job of dol­ing out up to $US300 mil­lion a year for ES cell re­search.

‘‘ Tony said he wishes pro­fes­sor Troun­son well,’’ Ab­bott’s spokesper­son said.

There’s no doubt that the se­lec­tion of Troun­son — di­rec­tor of the Monash Im­munol­ogy and Stem Cell Lab­o­ra­to­ries (MISCL) and founder of the Aus­tralian Stem Cell Cen­tre (ASCC) in Melbourne — to the CIRM top job will open doors for Aus­tralian sci­en­tists. As MISCL as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor Gra­ham Jenkin notes, ‘‘ I see fan­tas­tic spinoffs for us.’’

Still, it’s too soon to pre­dict pre­cisely what form the spin-offs will take, says Jenkin’s MISCL col­league Andrew Ele­fanty. ‘‘ It’s hard to es­ti­mate how (Troun­son’s ap­point­ment) will trans­late into the global stage,’’ notes Ele­fanty, co-leader of the ES Cell Dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion Lab­o­ra­tory.

Given the in­ter­na­tional na­ture of science — and the spot­light Troun­son now shines on Aus­tralian re­searchers — it’s likely lo­cal re­searchers will be of­fered greater ac­cess to well-funded in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tions. Lead­ing over­seas sci­en­tists may be re­minded of the ex­per­tise Aus­tralians could add to

From Health cover high-level projects. Oth­ers, such as Martin Pera — for­merly with the ASCC and now head of the In­sti­tute for Stem Cell and Re­gen­er­a­tive Medicine (ISCRM) at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia — may find it eas­ier to in­clude Aus­tralian part­ners.

Ul­ti­mately, though, sci­en­tists on both sides of the equa­tor will ben­e­fit, pre­dicts Bob Klein, the in­flu­en­tial lawyer, prop­erty de­vel­oper and driv­ing force of the CIRM.

‘‘ Alan can cap­ture the global state of the art and use that to lever­age the re­search in Cal­i­for­nia, hope­fully in col­lab­o­ra­tion with great science in Aus­tralia,’’ he said.

That does not mean ef­forts to lure more Aus­tralians across the Pa­cific, Klein has­tens to add: ‘‘ We only need one pres­i­dent.’’ In fact, the CIRM doesn’t need any sci­en­tists as it’s purely a fund­ing body, akin to the Na­tional Health and Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil, al­beit with vastly more money to dis­pense.

‘‘ The two places are like chalk and cheese,’’ says Troun­son, clearly still as­ton­ished by what he’s been handed. ‘‘ There’s no door that can’t be tapped on. It’s fan­tas­tic.’’

Ac­cord­ing to Klein, the job of the in­sti­tute is to ad­vance the de­vel­op­ment of ES cell ther­a­pies. ‘‘ We’re in a bat­tle against chronic dis­ease, not a bat­tle be­tween states or na­tions,’’ he adds.

Still, the three-year-old in­sti­tute has it­self been some­thing of a bat­tle­ground. Un­til re­cently it ran on bor­rowed money and a bare-bones staff. That was be­cause op­po­nents of ES cell re­search had chal­lenged the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of Propo­si­tion 71, the ref­er­en­dum mea­sure passed by Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers to es­tab­lish and fund the CIRM. The Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court gave its green light in May.

As well, Klein has taken flak for not get­ting the man­age­ment team in place sooner. There were also ru­mours of clashes be­tween Klein and past pres­i­dent Zach Hall. Hall re­tired in April, pre­cip­i­tat­ing quests for a re­place­ment.

‘‘ So hu­man re­la­tions is go­ing to be Alan’s first big job and it’s a tough one,’’ com­ments one ob­server. ‘‘ He’s go­ing to have to come up with so­lu­tions pretty fast.’’

On the up side, Troun­son is well-placed to man­age the chal­lenge. He’ll pick up the reins just as the CIRM is able to move into high gear. Fur­ther, he’s al­ready forged a solid work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Klein, who vis­ited Aus­tralia dur­ing last year’s leg­isla­tive re­view of anti-cloning and em­bryo re­search laws.

Thanks to that par­tic­i­pa­tion, Klein has solid con­tacts with groups such as MISCL and the ASCC and is on good terms with Brumby, a strong ad­vo­cate for med­i­cal re­search. Con­se­quently, the prospect of more for­malised links be­tween Aus­tralia and Cal­i­for­nia is ex­cel­lent.

As Troun­son says: ‘‘ I’d very much like to build link­ages with Aus­tralia.’’ He claims that’s part of his new job as a fa­cil­i­ta­tor, pulling to­gether world-wide sci­en­tific and ther­a­peu­tic threads. ‘‘ I’ve the op­por­tu­nity to be part of the lead­er­ship in the front line of a ma­jor revo­lu­tion in medicine,’’ he ex­plains.

Amer­ica-bound: Alan Troun­son’s move to San Fran­cisco could bring closer in­ter­na­tional ties for Aus­tralia’s re­searchers

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.