History of the stem cell

INFORMATIVE: Associate Professor Megan Munsi and Dr Alex Hewitt. Picture: BRENDAN McCARTHY

INFORMATIVE: Associate Professor Megan Munsi and Dr Alex Hewitt. Picture: BRENDAN McCARTHY

Debunking the myths surrounding medical research

STEM cells don't make us immortal but they do have extraordinary properties.

That is the main message of the internationally-acclaimed documentary Stem Cell Revolutions which aired at the La Trobe University Visual Arts Centre on Thursday morning.

The free community event included a panel discussion hosted by Dr Alex Hewitt from the Centre for Eye Research Australia and Associate Professor Megan Musie from Stem Cells Australia.

About 50 people attended the event which was designed to chart the history, evolution, fears and hopes of stem cell research.

The documentary explains how stem cells were discovered while trying to treat people exposed to lethal doses of radiation during World War II.

"There is a lot of hype and fears around stem cells but do we really know what we can do, how were they discovered and what can they actually achieve?" the film's narrator explains.

"I think it's important to begin with what a stem cell is.

"A stem cell is a cell that can renew itself and can also produce different specialised cells.

"So these are the cells that keep us alive and functioning throughout our life.

"Our body is made up of cells but most individual cells are short lived, lasting only a few days or weeks.

"The job of stem cells is to divide and differentiate into these different tissues, replacing the old cells as they die off.

"They form a stem that produces all the cells the body needs."

The documentary shows how stem cells were used to grow new skin for two young boys who had suffered horrific, life-threatening burns, and how stem cells are now being used to restore people's sight.

It's not about the science, it's about the people. - Stuart Galbraith

Bendigo resident Linda Nancarrow decided to organise a screening of Stem Cell Revolutions after attending a similar event in Melbourne at the Centre for Eye Research Australia.

Community and corporate relations manager Stuart Galbraith said the Centre for Eye Research Australia was established in 1996.

"We are Australia's largest eye research institute and we have about 150 staff and students," he said.

"We're about getting better treatments, being able to diagnose diseases at an earlier stage, being able to help provide education like today's film and we're about preventing disease.

"It's not about the science, it's about the people."

The Centre for Eye Research Australia is a not-for-profit organisation.

To make a donation or find out more visit www.cera.org.au

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