UNSW stem cell researcher Henry Chung is the inaugural winner of the NSW Government Paul Brock Scholarship.

A PhD candidate in UNSW's Stem Cell Laboratory, Henry is investigating the potential of stem cells - particularly Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS) - to treat neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons.

The prestigious scholarship is named after Dr Paul Brock, a motor neuron disease sufferer widely recognised for his significant contributions to public debate on stem cell science.

iPS cells are derived from adult tissues like skin and resemble embryonic stem cells, which have the ability to regenerate and replace virtually any diseased tissue in the body.

Henry's research aims to use iPS technology to transact and convert a patient's skin cells into an embryonic state. Recent breakthroughs in the technology have raised the possibility of using these cells to treat and eventually cure a range of neurological diseases.

"I was very honoured to win the Paul Brock Stem Cell Scholarship. The award will motivate me to complete my degree and at the same time gain insights into this growing research field," Henry said.

"iPS cells act in very similar ways to traditional embryonic stem cells, only they are more ethically accepted and easily derived."

"Patients' skin and hair cells will be our focus, as we can extract them pain-free and with relative ease," Henry said.

In the near future, such cells would be "patient-customised", meaning each individual would have their own source of stem cells to be used to repair damaged tissues and diseases, Henry predicted.

His supervisor, Associate Professor Kuldip Sidhu, director of UNSW's Stem Cell Laboratory, said Henry's win was a significant achievement.

"This is a cutting-edge technology and the Stem Cell Lab is actively involved in it. We need funding to promote this area in Australia and this is the first direction from the state government," Associate Professor Sidhu said.

"I'm very happy for Henry to be able to utilise the funding, to grow with it and further develop that technology in the lab."

Media contact: Steve Offner | 02 9385 8107 | s.offner@unsw.edu.au