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Prof Helen O'Neill

Cutmore Distinguished ProfShip StemCell Research

Level 4, Building 5, Faculty of Health Sciences & Medicine, Bond University

Faculty of Health Sciences & Medicine

Clem Jones Centre for Regenerative Medicine

Accepting PhD Students

Professional biography

Helen ONeill’s research encompasses stem cell biology and immunology. Helen completed a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in Genetics at Adelaide University, then worked in medical research at Stanford University, California, before completing her PhD in 1981 in the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) at the Australian National University (ANU). She was then appointed as a Research Fellow in JCSMR, became a Fellow in 1989, and took two periods of leave to undertake overseas fellowships. Between 1983 and 1985 she held an NHMRC CJ Martin Fellowship at Stanford University under Irv Weissman. Between 1987 and 1988, she was a Fellow of the International Union against Cancer working in the Tumor Biology Laboratories at Stanford University. In 1996 she took a research/teaching position in the School of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at ANU. She later became Professor and Head of the Stem Cell and Immunology Lab in the ANU Research School of Biology. In 2015, Helen moved to the Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine at Bond University to pursue research on hematopoietic, retinal and mesenchymal stem cells, and their application in regenerative medicine. In 2016 she was appointed Director of the Clem Jones Centre for Regenerative Medicine, and in 2017 she was awarded the Cutmore Distinguished Professorship in Stem Cell Research. She holds an Emeritus Professorship at ANU.

Research interests

My research experience has been in the fields of stem cell biology and immunology. I have a history of publication in experimental hematology and the development of hematopoietic cells from stem cells. A more recent interest is stromal cell microenvironments which support hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cell development for tissue regeneration. I also have a long-term interest in lymphocyte and dendritic cell development and function. Recent important findings relate to hematopoiesis which occurs in spleen, and definition of myelopoiesis unique to spleen. 

My lab has developed new and exacting culture methods and procedures for stem cell isolation and study that will form the basis of future work on stem cell differentiation and tissue regeneration.

Since joining Bond University in 2015 I have become involved in retinal cell differentiation with a view to development of a stem cell therapy for treatment of age-related macular degeneration. This involves preparation of retinal pigment epithelial cells from pluripotent stem cells, growth of cells on a membrane, and implantation into the subretinal space. The goal is to achieve vision improvement through replacement of the retinal pigment epithelial cells which support photoreceptor function, but which are lost in macular degeneration.

Teaching expertise

  • Teaching experience at ANU Undergraduate teaching in immunology, cell biology¬†
  • Curriculum development in Biomedical Sciences Honours supervision and examination
  • ¬†Supervisor of ~30 completed PhD students Graduate program convenor

Teaching awards

  • Supervisor of 36 PhD students
  • Citation Award from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning (2009)
  • Top Supervisor Award, ANU (2009)
  • Vice-Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Supervision, ANU (2004)

Professional admissions

  • Life Member of the Association of UICC Fellows
  • International Society for Stem Cell Research
  • International Society for Experimental Hematology
  • American Association of Immunologists
  • Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research
  • Australasian Society for Immunology
  • Society for Leukocyte Biology

Professional appointments

  • Emeritus Professor - Research School of Biology, Australian National University

Qualifications

  • Immunology, PhD, Australian National University, Award Date: 1 Jan 1981
  • Genetics, BSc Hons I, University of Adelaide
  • Administration, GD (Admin), University of Canberra

Fields of Research

  • Clinical sciences

Statement for HDR students

A range of student projects are available related to stem cells, differentiation within their microenvironments, and their capacity to regenerate organs. These projects are tied to ongoing research activities funded by grants with a view to regeneration of tissues. Recent specific projects I am involved with include: 

1. Characterisation, isolation and transplantation of hematopoietic stem cells 

2. Investigation of perivascular reticular cells which form niches for tissue specific hematopoiesis

3. Development of retinal cells from pluripotent stem cells

4. A stem cell therapy for macular degeneration

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