Updated November 2014
Background Information on the Organisation
Working to build a healthy Australia
NHMRC is an independent agency within the Australian Government Health portfolio. It is Australia’s leading funding agency promoting the development and maintenance of public and individual health standards. It is established under the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992, (the NHMRC Act, see http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about/organisation-overview/nhmrcs-role).
The objective of the NHMRC Act is to make provision for a national body to pursue activities designed:
- to raise the standard of individual and public health throughout Australia;
- to foster the development of consistent health standards between the States and Territories;
- to foster medical research and training and public health research and training throughout Australia; and
- to foster consideration of ethical issues relating to health.
Annual Research Budget
Expenditure on health and medical research in 2013 will be approximately A$811 million.
Stem Cell Budget
The NHMRC is the major funding body for medical research within Australia. In the period 2000-2013, the NHMRC spent approximately A$535 million on stem cell research (both animal and human). A breakdown of NHMRC’s expenditure is at Attachment A.
Stem Cell Strategy
NHMRC’s current Strategic Plan (2013-2015) identifies a number of major health issues, including National Health Priorities, improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, ‘omics’, and improving care of patients with multiple and complex chronic diseases. Our research programs support research and research translation to improve health outcomes in these areas, including through stem cell research and regenerative medicine.
Key Stem Cell Investments
NHMRC – Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Collaborative Research Grants
NHMRC entered into a memorandum of understanding in June 2010 with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to support collaboratively funded and monitored stem cell research projects. NHMRC has allocated up to $4m to fund the Australian component of research supported under the MOU. The combined value of this international collaboration is more than $6 million.
In 2012 NHMRC has awarded $1.74 million to support a 3 year research grant into a stem cell therapy for Multiple Sclerosis.
On 18 October 2013 CIRM issued a request for applications (RFA) -‘Tools and Technologies III’. The NHMRC is one of several collaborative funding partners involved in this call. Outcomes are expected to be announced in 2015.
Recent Research Achievements and Outputs
Issuance of a CIRM RFA – ‘Tools and Technologies III’ on 18 October 2013
Changes to Stem Cell Related Policies
In December 2013, the CEO issued a revised Chapter 3.4 of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/e72)
The revised Chapter 3.4: Human biospecimens in laboratory based research combines the previous Chapter 3.4 and Chapter 3.6, to:
- recognise human stem cells and human tissue as “human biological specimens” (biospecimens).
- clarify that the chapter is applicable to laboratory use of human biospecimens, i.e. the chapter is not applicable to therapeutic uses.
- make a clear distinction between:
- the harvesting of embryonic stem cells and the derivation of embryonic stem cells (governed by the RIHE Act and the ART Guidelines), and
- the research use of established embryonic stem cells and stem cell lines.
- provide clear guidance on the requirements of informed consent from donors of biospecimens, or where a waiver of consent may be ethically permissible.
- provide clear ethical guidance on when an HREC must review proposed research using biospecimens.
- provide for a low-risk pathway of ethical review.
- provide clear ethical guidance on the requirements for the exportation and importation of biospecimens to and from international sources.
National (or regional) Stem Cell Network
- National Health and Medical Research Council (http://www.nhmrc.gov.au)
- National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia (NSCFA) http://www.stemcellfoundation.net.au
- Stem Cells Australia (http://www.stemcellsaustralia.edu.au/)
Other Major Funders of Stem Cell Research
National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia
The National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia (NSCFA) is a charitable body established in mid-2011 as a follow-on organisation from the Australian Stem Cell Centre (which reached the end of its government funding cycle).
NSCFA’s mission is to promote the study and use of stem cells in the prevention or control of disease in human beings and to enhance public education in this field. NSCFA’s funding disbursement policy is due for announcement in early 2014.
Australian Research Council
In 2011, the Australian Research Council (ARC) announced that it will fund a new collaborative research initiative to support stem cell science through the ARC’s Special Research Initiatives (SRI) scheme. The Australian Government committed funding of up to $21 million for a period of up to seven years.
The Special Research Initiative in Stem Cell Science will fund one or more proposals to deliver a program of activities supporting stem cell research. The successful proposal(s) will be funded on the basis of the excellence of the researchers and the proposed research program, including demonstrated opportunities for collaboration and the potential to produce significant research outcomes for the benefit for the Australian community.
The Initiative will conduct highly innovative and collaborative research which is internationally competitive, facilitate public understanding and build Australia’s human capacity in stem cell science.
Relevant NHMRC Initiatives
The NHMRC’s Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) is a principal committee of the NHMRC and is established to develop human research guidelines and promote discussion on ethical issues relating to human health.
Relevant guidelines include:
- National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/e72);
- Ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproductive technology in clinical practice and research (http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/e78); and
The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/r39).
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