July 25, 2016  Print

Westmead Institute heart researcher Dr James Chong has been awarded the prestigious Metcalf Prize for recognition of his leadership in stem cell research.

Heart researcher Dr James Chong from The Westmead Institute
Heart researcher Dr James Chong

Dr Chong has two starters in the race to develop stem cell therapies for heart failure as viable alternatives to heart transplants. His research is exploring both the potential for transplanted stem cells to regenerate new heart tissue and how to repair a patient’s heart by rejuvenating their own heart stem cells.

“In Australia, 54,000 people suffer a heart attack and 20,000 die from chronic heart failure each year. I want to develop stem cell treatments that can save the lives of the thousands of people who miss out on heart transplants,” says James.

James has already shown that human stem cells can produce new beating heart muscle cells, repairing heart damage in an animal trial. But the test group developed abnormal heart rhythms.

He believes modifying the stem cells using gene therapy can overcome the heart rhythm irregularities and wants to test the approach in a further animal trial to pave the way for human trials.

James has also discovered a population of stem cells that naturally reside in the heart, but decline with ageing and disease. He is developing ways to reawaken these stem cells to repair the damaged heart.

James will use his Metcalf Prize to help advance his work on both fronts towards human trials.

James treats patients as a consultant cardiologist at Westmead Hospital and is The Westmead Institute’s Cardiac Regeneration Group Leader. He is also a senior lecturer at Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney.

Each year, the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia awards and celebrates two exceptional mid-career stem cell researchers with the $50,000 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research.