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Can stem cells make drugs to stop osteoarthritis? Stomach stem cells behaving badly

National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia 2 mins read
The winners of the 2023 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research: Dr Jiao Jiao Li and Dr Dustin Flanagan


Can stem cells make drugs to stop osteoarthritis? (Sydney)

Stomach stem cells behaving badly (Melbourne)

Tuesday 31 October 2023

Winners of the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s Metcalf Prizes announced today

Scientists available for interviews, see below for contact details
Profiles and photos available:

Researchers working with stem cells to find treatments for osteoarthritis and stomach cancer are the two winners of the 2023 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research, awarded by the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.

Can stem cells make drugs to stop osteoarthritis?

Dr Jiao Jiao Li plans to use stem cells as biofactories to make drugs to reduce inflammation and encourage repair in painful osteoarthritic joints.

Osteoarthritis is a hugely debilitating joint disease with few treatment options.  Injecting stem cells to repair damaged joints has shown inconsistent and poor long-term results and the potential for adverse side effects.

“I believe it would be safer and more effective to use stem cells to create healing biomolecules and inject those instead,” says Jiao Jiao, a bioengineer at University of Technology Sydney.

Her $60,000 Metcalf Prize will contribute to her work across disciplines, using artificial intelligence, bioengineering, nanotechnology and stem cell science to develop new stem cell-derived treatments – initially for osteoarthritis but potentially for a wide range of other diseases.

Stomach stem cells behaving badly

People diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer have a less than 10 per cent chance of surviving more than 5 years.

Dr Dustin Flanagan wants to boost that survival rate by understanding why some deviant stomach stem cells turn cancerous. This knowledge will help in the development of drugs to bring these misbehaving cells back to normal, healthy function.

Dustin’s past research has led to the development of treatments for Crohn’s disease, bowel cancer, and other gastrointestinal conditions.

He’s now at Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute turning his attention to stomach cancer, which is less common than bowel cancer but just as lethal.

“Our goal is to make discoveries that have the potential to generate new therapies for therapy-resistant metastatic gastric cancer,” he says.

“These two remarkable researchers are revealing how the behaviour of different stem cells might cause or cure different diseases,” says Dr Graeme Blackman AO, the chairman of the Foundation.

The awards are named for the late Professor Donald Metcalf AC who, over a 50-year career, helped transform cancer treatment and transplantation medicine, paving the way for potential stem cell therapy in the treatment of many other conditions.

The 2023 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research will be formally presented at the Australasian Society of Stem Cell Research Annual Scientific Meeting in Sydney on Wednesday 15 November.


To arrange interviews, contact:

Tanya Ha, Science in Public, 0404 083 863,

Niall Byrne, Science in Public, 0417 131 977,

About the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

The NSCFA is an ATO-registered, tax-deductible health promotion charity dedicated to promoting the study and responsible use of stem cells to reduce the burden of disease.

The Foundation’s activities include:

  • supporting research that pursues cures for as-yet-untreatable diseases;
  • building a community of people with a shared interest in stem cell science; and
  • providing the Australian public with objective, reliable information on both the potential and risks of stem cell medicine.

The Foundation is led by an expert volunteer Board, with a diversity of scientific, medical and governance experience. The Chairman is Dr Graeme Blackman, AO, FTSE, FAICD.

The Board consults with leading stem cell scientists before committing funds to research and education initiatives. More at:


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