Stem cell expert heads new research team

July 8, 2015

Bond University has appointed Professor Helen O’Neill to the newly created position of Chair of Immunology and Stem Cell Biology, as it continues to expand its medical research expertise.

Professor O’Neill will bring three researchers with her to Bond, taking the total team working on regenerative medicine and stem cell-based immunotherapies at the university to eight.

The new researchers will bring projects looking at blood forming hematopoietic stem cells, novel regulators of cancer stem cells, and methods to regenerate immune organs like spleen.

They will work alongside an existing team of researchers in Bond’s Clem Jones Research Centre for Stem Cells and Tissue Regenerative Therapies, who have just received another $1.2 million in funding following a major medical breakthrough in the journey to restoring sight to patients with  acute macular regeneration.

Professor O'Neill has an established reputation as a leading immunology and stem cell expert, having worked across a number of highly respected institutions in Australia and overseas.

After graduating from Adelaide University with an Honours degree in genetics,  she has worked in medical research at Stanford University in California and the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.

She completed her PhD at ANU in the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) in 1981 and then continued immunology research in the school for 15 years.

In1996, she moved to the School of Biomedical Sciences at ANU and later became Professor and Leader of the Stem Cell and Immunology Lab within the Research School of Biology.

She has been awarded several prestigious fellowships including the NHMRC CJ Martin Fellowship and a Cancer Research Fellowship working at Stanford University under Irv Weissman, a leading stem cell expert.

Bond University Health Sciences and Medicine Executive Dean, Professor Helen Chenery, said Professor O’Neill’s appointment was part of a strategic plan to expand the Faculty’s research expertise in niche and emerging areas of medicine.

“Bond’s medical faculty is still considered relatively young, having been established just 10 years ago. However, we have an increasing number of experts in fields including evidence-based medicine, physiology, urology, exercise science and stem cell biology, based at the campus,” she said.

“Professor O’Neill’s appointment provides a further boost to this expertise and I look forward to the exciting discoveries that will no doubt be made under her guidance in the areas of immunology and stem cell biology.”

Professor O’Neill said her research focus at Bond would be on ways to stimulate and regulate hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cells in bone marrow and other tissues.

“These two types of stem cells are present in more organs than people imagine,” she said.

“The future is about understanding stem cells, how they work, what regenerates them, how we can isolate them and tailor therapies to stimulate them and move them around the body.

“We need to truly comprehend the basic science of stem cells so we can translate this into something valuable for people that will, ultimately, improve the future of medical care.

“Bond has provided me with a great opportunity to guide the university’s research in the evolving area of immunology and stem cell biology, and I am very excited to be part of such a proactive university where things really do seem to happen.”