The ability to unlimitedly self-renew and develop into numerous cell types has made regenerative medicine a growing discipline of medical research. A strength of ARMI’s research program is the diversity of topic areas, ranging from organ engineering and synthetic biology to immunity and regeneration, all of which have commercial promise. In addition to cell-based therapies for diseases and injuries that conventional medicines cannot treat, the potential applications of stem cells are enormous and not only limited to human therapies.
Innovation is about staying open-minded and creative. ARMI’s Industry Advisory Committee (IAC) plays an important role in bringing industry exposure and sparking new ideas so that ARMI researchers can realise the full potential of their work – even beyond human medicine. With the diversification of this critical committee, ARMI is doing just that.
Much of ARMI’s research shows potential application in the veterinary market. With our conserved shared biology, it is possible for stem cell and regenerative medicine technologies developed for humans to be slightly modified to help many animal species. The chair of the ARMI IAC, Dr Duncan Thomson, has unique expertise in veterinary regenerative medicine research. Duncan joined Regeneus in 2010 as the Head of Animal Health, where he launched an adipose-derived allogeneic mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) product into the veterinary market, quickly becoming the most widely utilised product globally.
Since the 2000s, several companies, including Vetstem, Medrego and Gallant, began to offer cell therapies for companion animals and horses. Mononuclear fraction and MSC-based therapies have been used to treat tendon and ligament injuries and joint diseases. Thousands of animals have already been treated globally, making it a fast-growing industry. With Duncan, ARMI can now explore how the breadth and depth of its research program can play a role in treating a broad spectrum of diseases and conditions in animals.
Another potential application of ARMI’s research is in the field of cellular agriculture. Cellular agriculture is the production of animal-sourced food from cell culture, with the production of cheese using rennet enzymes being one of the first examples of cellular agriculture. As the global concerns around animal welfare and the impacts of agriculture on climate change continue to grow, it is a field with enormous potential for commercialisation.
Dr Bianca Lê, another member of ARMI’s IAC, is a cell biologist and the founder of Cellular Agriculture Australia, a nonprofit committee dedicated to promoting and accelerating research and development in the cellular agriculture industry. Here, understanding the behaviour of stem cells and how to manipulate cell differentiation is key, which aligns with much of ARMI’s research focus.
Cellular culture is not limited to food products like meat, dairy, eggs and fish, but also animal-sourced materials. A further potential application of ARMI’s research is the biofabrication of products such as rhino horn and elephant ivory to mitigate the poaching of wildlife animals and preserve the biodiversity of delicate ecosystems. Early work in this field has found a method to reprogram rhino skin cells into keratinocytes, which produce the keratin that makes up rhino horns. The current challenge is to grow the keratinocytes into a three-dimensional rhino-horn-shape.
Altogether, with Bianca, ARMI opens another exciting avenue to apply its stem cell research and related expertise. Research investigating cellular reprogramming, regeneration and structure will be highly applicable in the future of cellular agriculture.
Expanding ARMI’s translational and commercialisation scope also creates a stable funding base to continue the Institute’s research program. Currently, government funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC) does not cover the entire cost of research. Grant application success rates have decreased in the past 20 years, with 33.9% success in 2002 compared to 18.9% in 2021. Therefore, researchers need to attract alternative funding sources to create a sustainable environment supporting vital biomedical research. Industry accounts for half of the expenditure on research in Australia; therefore, having commercially viable applications of research outcomes is critical. ARMI’s IAC widens the horizon for ARMI and its research by keeping up with current industry trends and guiding ARMI in identifying needs and possibilities in all fields.
“Diversity is the first step of innovation. At ARMI, we have talent from all research backgrounds, and we never limit ourselves in traditional medical research,” said Silvio Tiziani, the Director of External Strategy and Planning at ARMI.