Regenerative medicine is no longer an obscure concept. With major translational milestones in recent years, from the rollout of CAR-T therapies to the emerging commercialisation of tissue engineering technologies, the field has come of age.
“While this is generally fantastic news for patients, there is the ongoing issue of misinformation and the supply of unregulated and unproven therapies. As such, education and public outreach has never been more important to prevent patients from falling prey to opportunistic behaviour, which may result in further damage to patients’ health,” noted Dr Chih-Wei Teng, COO of CCRM Australia. He continued, “ Public confidence is important for the adoption of novel medicines.”
One organisation leading the way in this space is Stem Cells Australia, led by Professor Megan Munsie. As the head of a research team in ethics, education and policy in stem cell science at the University of Melbourne, Megan is an expert in stem cell research and is a passionate advocate for STEM communication and education.
“There’s a heightened expectation of stem cell research – it has certainly captured the community’s imagination. However, community views about when treatments will be available and the steps required to get there don’t quite match up. We’re interested in closing the gap between expectation and risk, making people aware of the potential but also the current challenges and limitations of this technology,” explained Megan.
To this end, Stem Cells Australia has created a new website, intending to be a comprehensive, evidence-based resource on stem cell and regenerative medicine research for patients and those simply curious about the field. Megan said, “We recognise that different people come to our website. We know that students and teachers use our website. We also have carers, relatives, people affected by conditions, and doctors and other healthcare professionals. So it’s really about enhancing community understanding and providing an opportunity for people to find out more.”
The new website was thoughtfully developed using years of research, qualitative interviews, survey responses and website data. It builds on ten years of experience from the ARC Special Research Initiative in Stem Cell Science and was created with a collaborative team of University of Melbourne experts in stem cell science, medical education, health law and information technology. The team also included patient advocates and people with lived experience, and this is particularly important as more regenerative medicine-based therapeutics and technologies reach the final stages of development.
Megan commented, “We don’t provide medical advice, but hopefully point people in the right direction to get more informed. We understand that people often start searching for information soon after they receive a diagnosis. We see it as our responsibility to listen to their stories and help with their research. We encourage people to take information from our website to their next consultation and talk to their doctor. We aim to be a catalyst as they make decisions about their future care.”
Dispelling stem cell myths, profiling the scientists behind the breakthroughs, linking to several other reputable resources, and providing a primer on clinical trials, the new Stem Cells Australia website is a rich portal of information. It is critical to understand that this is an ongoing two-way dialogue, especially as technology evolves and becomes more complex.
“Stem Cells Australia has been and continues to be a key organisation in the field, as advocates, as communicators and as drivers of policy change,” commented Chih-Wei. “We are honoured to work alongside them in this larger ecosystem that would see the introduction of safe and effective regenerative medicine therapies.”