The Joint Annual Scientific Meetings of the Endocrine Society of Australia and the Society for Reproductive Biology 2018

Pushing the boundaries of biology and technology: A non-linear model with rewards and tensions (#15)

Alan Trounson 1
  1. Hudson Institute for Medical Research, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

My research career has been primarily disruptive and rewarding in a model where collaborations with individuals from different fields has worked well in opening new opportunities in animal biotechnology and human medicine. Generally the new studies were not supported by conventional granting agencies because there was little preliminary data or evidence that it would succeed. There were also ethical issues raised by some of the work because the subject had strong connections to religious beliefs that were not supportive. At other times the collaboration with industry was seen as a negative. These issues created tension between the desire to continue the research and institutional or community concerns. Generally the science won out because it provided highly desirable outcomes.


The subject of my research moved from large animal reproductive technology – developing embryo transfer, freezing and transport for the animal industries (cattle, sheep, horses, pigs) to human IVF where there was little knowledge and a belief that IVF should not be developed. The tensions were very strong over the ethics of embryo research, involvement of commercialisation and the pace of discovery. Over 8 million babies have now been born using basically the technologies we developed at Monash. Cloning of animals after “Dolly the sheep” again created tensions but also resulted in a new farm animal industry. Human embryonic stem cells were developed again with considerable criticism and a lack grant funding. This field moved quickly with the early discoveries and was strongly funded as Australia’s Biotechnology Centre of Excellence by the ARC ($110million). However, this was a disappointment when governance issues and structure led to key scientists leaving. In a very different structure the state bond funded California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) (US$3billion) demonstrated how to drive stem cell discovery to clinical trials and eventually patient benefits. The cell therapy that has arisen around chimeric antigen receptor technology (CAR-T) shows also incredible potential as an effective cancer therapy and when combined with stem cells may revolutionise cancer treatment.