Professor George Yeoh completed his undergraduate science degree with honours and a PhD at The University of Western Australia. He then worked in Physiology at UWA for two years before winning the prestigious postdoctoral award CJ Martin Fellowship from the NH&MRC, which allowed him to study at The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and The Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow and then UWA for three years. Prof Yeoh then worked in Physiology at UWA for twenty years before accepting a position as Associate Professor in Biochemistry.
As well as researching and teaching, Prof Yeoh is also the Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.
Professor Yeoh has sent his cell lines to 18 different laboratories around the world, including research institutes and universities in Australia, USA, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, India, and China.
The incidence of liver disease in Australia is rising, along with obesity and hepatitis . In China alone there are over 120 million people infected with viral hepatitis. Professor Yeoh’s group were among the first to suggest the link between progenitor cells and liver cancer. Normally the liver is able to regenerate from injury, regrowing from hepatocytes. However, in diseases such as hepatitis B and alcoholism, where the liver has to continuously repair chronic damage, liver progenitor cells are used but this can result in cancer. This restricts the use of progenitor cells in therapy, so Professor Yeoh is currently trying to determine exactly what prompts good progenitor cells to turn cancerous. This is done by researching and comparing both tumerogenic and normal cells.
It is important to understand progenitor cells for although hepatocyte cells can be used in therapy, they are not as long lasting so they have limited applications. Using liver progenitor cell lines, it should be possible to create therapeutic bioreactors, such as liver dialysis machines. The next step is to use these cells in bio-artificial livers, and ultimately, to use them as cell therapy to replace the need for organ transplants. At the current rate of research, Professor Yeoh hopes to have therapeutic bioreactors in the next 4-5 years, artificial livers within 10 years and in-person therapy within the next 15-20 years.
By marking progenitor cells with fluorescent proteins, Professor Yeoh has been able to trace the development of the cells in mouse models. This technique will now be used to monitor the efficacy of treatment by cell therapy in mouse models for Wilsons’ disease and Methylmalonic aciduria (MMA).