Summary: 9th Annual International Society of Stem Cell Research Conference
By Don C. Reed
From the press conference for the new website, Stem Cell City, electronic presence of the McEwen Center for Regenerative Medicine, (www.joinstemcellcity.com) to the enormous halls for scientific posters, to the struggle to understand the scientists who interpreted those posters, the trip to Canada for the International Society of Stem Cell Research Conference was one massive information overload—and a joy.
Ontario Premiere Dalton McGuinty spoke of Canada’s pioneering giants, James Edgar Till and Earnest Armstrong McCulloch, first to prove the existence of stem cells.
California’s own Bob Klein, author of Prop 71, received the first-ever ISSCR Public Service Award. He took the opportunity to thank Canadian researchers, for developing insulin– which keeps his diabetic son Jordan alive.
When Daniella Drummond-Burbosa spoke on: “Control of stem cells by diet and systemic factors in the drosophila ovary”, I asked why that was important.
“A fly’s insides are relatively simple to understand. We have to go back to the beginning stages of living tissue,” she said, “So we can know exactly how each step works.”
My son Roman is paralyzed. So when Robert S. Langer, MIT professor with more than 700 patents, spoke of making a hollow spinal cord column—and stuffing it with stem cells—I had serious doubts. But there it was on the screen before us, and previously paraplegic monkeys were galloping on a treadmill.
Greatness of the future? Robert Blelloch received the ISSCR Outstanding Young Investigator Award for his work on the signals regulating stem cells.
At the ‘MEET THE EXPERTS LUNCH” you could sit with a favorite scientist.
Irv Weissman spoke of the dangers of “stem cell tourism”, where patients went overseas and tried potentially unsafe procedures, perhaps endangering their lives.
Shinya Yamanaka! The famous Japanese scientist who came up with induced Pluripotent Stem cells (iPS) defended his research, recently criticized by several scientific articles.
And he made everyone feel proud of Japan, which is hosting the ISSCR meeting next year, despite the disaster which so riveted the world.
“It is safe, it is beautiful– and you will like the food!” he said.
Multiple “tracks” made possible an organized presentation of various approaches.
Freda Miller: fighting paralysis with skin cells.
Elly Tanaka: how a salamander regenerates its severed spinal cord.
Amy Wagers of Harvard spoke about regenerating muscle function for the aged— to my all-too-frequently-aching muscles, it sounded very good indeed.
Brock Reeve, walked by and naturally I had to jump up and run over and shake his hand– director of Harvard’s stem cell program, brother of Christopher Reeve, and a good man.
The place was like a Hall of Fame for research for cure.
Fred Gage of Salk, Sally Temple of the New York Neural Stem Cell Institute, Elaine Fuchs, chair of the ISSCR itself—and the exhibit halls? Huge.
Two phone book-sized volumes gave brief descriptions of the thousands of posters—I could have spent a week in there, and never come to the end.
I walked up to two Chinese scientists, and asked them where the most stem cell research was in China, and they said: “Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong”—we chatted a bit, I tried out my baby-talk Mandarin on them, and they were polite enough to pretend I was understandable—and it turned out one of them, Gang Li, was now in Mountain View, California, and we had a mutual friend, Deepak Srivastava, who recently published an article on turning heart scars into useful tissue, which may be of enormous significance.
Hans Keirstead was presenting work on a stem cell therapy to save the lives of children with spinal muscular atrophy, who may otherwise die before the age of two.
George Daley of Boston’s Children’s Hospital, great scientist and communicator… he could be a convention by himself!
Impression: despite all the talk about new methods, embryonic stem cell research is increasingly the number one research choice. I walked up and down the research poster aisles every day for at least a couple hours, and it was astonishing to see how even in countries and states officially against the research, people who were studying it anyway.
And the two biggest names in non-embryonic stem cell research? The world is abuzz with the iPS work of Shinya Yamanaka, just as it was with adult stem cell research of Catherine Verfaille when it seemed she might have a method which was just as good as embryonic—both of them had experiments underway in embryonic stem cell research.
Kawasaki, the famous Japanese motorcycle company, is now heavily into biomedicine.
Conversations and companies, theories and therapies, champions of the past and future.
Thank you, CIRM, for helping patient advocates glimpse the future. It will allow us to more effectively share the message of hope which is California’s gift to the world.