Martin Pera was amongst a small group of researchers who pioneered the isolation and characterization of pluripotent stem cells from human germ cell tumours, studies that provided an important framework for the development of human embryonic stem cells. His laboratory at Monash University was the second in the world to isolate embryonic stem cells from the human blastocyst, and the first to describe their differentiation into somatic cells (precursors of the central nervous system). Currently his lab studies the regulation of self-renewal and pluripotency, heterogeneity in pluripotent stem cell populations, and neural specification of pluripotent stem cells. His work on neural differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells led to the development of a new treatment for macular degeneration, a common form of blindness, which is now in clinical trial in Israel. He has provided extensive advice to state, national and international regulatory authorities on the scientific background to stem cell research, and has delivered hundreds of commentaries for print and electronic media on stem cell research, ethics, and regulatory policy. At the Jackson Laboratory Pera will continue work on the regulation of pluripotency, and will study the genetic basis of individual differences in the response of the central nervous system to injury.
A review in the journal Cell Stem Cells by two JAX scientists reports on the latest efforts to isolate and culture the elusive populations of stem cells that most closely resemble very early (two-cell stage) totipotent cells.