New platform aids stem cell research

11 Dec 2014

Researchers at The University of Queensland are part of a global team that has identified a new type of artificial stem cell.

UQ Associate Professor Christine Wells said Project Grandiose had revealed it could track new ways to reprogram a normal adult cell, such as skin cells, into cells similar to those found in an early embryo.

The development is expected to help researchers explore ways to arrive at new cell types in the laboratory, with important implications for regenerative medicine and stem cell science.

Associate Professor Wells, who leads the Stemformatics stem cell research support unit at UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, said the project involved a consortium of 50 researchers from Canada, Australia, Korea, the USA and the Netherlands.

“We all come from just one cell – the fertilised egg – and this cell contains within its DNA a series of instruction manuals to make all of the many different types of cells that make up our body,” AIBN Associate Professor Wells said.

“These very early stage cells can now be made in the lab by reversing this process of development.

“Our research reveals the new instructions imposed on a cell when this developmental process is reversed.”

Project Grandiose is a large-scale research effort to understand what happens inside a cell as it reverts to an artificial stem cell.

“The role of the group was to help the researchers have access to the vast information and data they generated from the project,” Associate Professor Wells said.

“Our online data platform is designed to let non-specialists view the genes involved and the many ways they are regulated during cell formation.

“The platform is used by the Project Grandiose team as an online encyclopaedia to look up the behaviour of individual genes or groups of genes they are interested in.

“One of the most exciting findings from Project Grandiose is the discovery that adult cells can be reprogrammed to more than one type of ‘artificial’ stem cell.

“This opens up the possibility of exploring different ways to arrive at new cell types in the laboratory with important implications for regenerative medicine and stem cell science.”

The project was led by Dr Andras Nagy at the Lunenfeld Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto, Canada.

"Stemfomatics has been pivotal in elevating the Project Grandiose dataset to a whole new level,” Dr Nagy said.

“The user-friendly web-based interface allows for direct insights into the molecular events underlying the reprogramming process to pluripotent stem cells.”

Project Grandiose involved around about 50 experts in stem cell biology and genomics technologies from leading laboratories, including scientists at UQ, The University of Sydney, Australian National University, the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

Professor Sean Grimmond’s team at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and Dr Nicole Cloonan’s team at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute generated most of the project’s core data and performed the gene expression analysis used in this study.

“Project Grandiose has been an excellent example of how biological research now uses ‘big data’ approaches to better understand important biological processes like cell reprograming,” Professor Grimmond said.

Stemformatics is a collaboration between the stem cell and bioinformatics community and a core technology in the Stem Cells Australia initiative funded by the Australian Research Council.

Findings from the research have been published in the journals Nature and Nature Communications.


Find the papers here.

Media: AIBN, Ruth Neale, 07 3346 3965,; IMB, Gemma Ward, 07 3346 2134, 

About the key principal investigators for Project Grandiose

Associate Professor Christine Wells is the led at The University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. She directs the Australian Stemformatics contingent, which is based at and built as the collaboration platform for Stem Cells Australia.

Dr. Andras Nagy, a renowned stem cell researcher and the Canada Research Chair in Stem Cells and Regeneration, has been working out of Mount Sinai’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute for 25 years. He is a Professor at University of Toronto’s Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Institute of Medical Sciences.

Dr. Thomas Preiss is a Professor of RNA Biology at The John Curtin School of Medical Research, The Australian National University in Canberra. Dr Preiss is well known for his research into the patterns and mechanisms of gene regulation at the RNA level with an international profile as one of Australia’s foremost experts in this area. He was awarded the 2014 Julian Wells Medal for his contribution to the advancement of genome science in Australia.

Jeong-Sun Seo, MD, PhD is a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at Seoul National University, College of Medicine. He is focusing on understanding how the genomic and epigenetic variations affect pathological changes. There have been some notable contributions to genomic research by him, such as Asian individual genome in Nature 2009, Asian CNV in Nature Genetics 2010, Asian transcriptome in Nature Genetics 2011, and novel cancer fusion gene in Genome Research 2012. He has received the Award for Excellence in Creative Activities from SNU in 2012. He presently leads the ILCHUN Genomic Medicine Institute, Seoul National University (GMI-SNU) as a Director since 1997.

Dr. Albert Heck is a Professor of Biomolecular Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics at Utrecht University since 1998. Since 2003, he has been the scientific director of the Netherlands Proteomics Centre. Dr. Heck was awarded the HUPO Discovery Award in 2013 and EuPA's Proteomics Pioneer Award 2014.

Dr. Peter Zandstra is a Professor at University of Toronto, Institute of Biomaterials and Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry. He is the CSO of Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine.