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ISSCR 2013 Show Preview (continued)
May 2013
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author

To return to part one of the ISSCR annual meeting coverage, click here.

Events for junior investigators

At each ISSCR Annual Meeting, special events are held to provide networking, career-building and social opportunities for junior investigators. This year in Boston, the following events will be held as part of the ISSCR 11th Annual Meeting:

Meet the Experts Lunches
Thursday, June 13, and Friday, June 14 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. These networking events provide the opportunity to meet stem cell leaders in a casual setting.

Junior Investigator Social Event
Thursday, June 13 8 p.m. to midnight

Career Panel
Saturday, June 15 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. This panel provides a chance to network with peers and receive career advice from a panel of experts during a lunch discussion.  
  The tower of Boston's Custom House in Financial District neighborhood of Boston was the first skyscraper in the city when it was built in 1917. The structure is now Marriott's Custom House Hotel. CREDIT: Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau

Focus sessions

Focus Sessions are member-organized presentations that offer parallel, in-depth educational opportunities exploring unique issues relating to stem cell research. At the ISSCR 11th Annual Meeting, two sessions are planned to be held the morning of Wednesday, June 12:
  • Somatic Cell Donation for Stem Cell Research: Current Challenges, Future Directions – presented by the ISSCR Ethics and Public Policy Committee
  • Generating Collections of Human iPSC and ES lines: Establishing Best Practices for Sharing Protocols and Cell Lines – presented by Stem Cell COREdinates with the Allen Institute of Brain Science    

Pictured here are two Boston landmarks: Trinity Church and the John Hancock Tower. Located in the Back Bay area of Boston, the church, founded in 1733, is a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. The John Hancock Tower, officially named Hancock Place and colloquially known as The Hancock, is a 60-story building that is the tallest in New England and has been the tallest building in Boston for more than 30 years. CREDIT: Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau

Exhibit hours

Wednesday, June 12
3:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Thursday, June 13
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Friday, June 14
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday, June 15
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  

ISSCR figures prominently among winners of inaugural Breakthrough Prize  
SKOKIE, Ill.— This year marked the inauguration of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, with the award going out to 11 people in 2013. Among those 11 distinguished recipients announced in February, the Illinois-based International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) notes that it can boast two who have a direct connection to the ISSCR and one with a very timely, if indirect, connection.  
One of those direct connections was Dr. Hans Clevers, who is a member of the ISSCR board of directors as well as being a professor of medical genetics at the Hubrecht Institute in The Netherlands. He received his Breakthrough Prize for describing the role of Wnt signaling in tissue stem cells and cancer.   Also with close ties to ISSCR is Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who received the prize for work in the area of induced pluripotent stem cells. Yamanaka is the current ISSCR president and also director of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application at Kyoto University as well as a senior investigator for the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco.  
On the more indirect end of things is Dr. Eric S. Lander, who is the keynote speaker for ISSCR's annual meeting in June. Lander is a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School and the president and founding director of the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Lander earned his prize for the discovery of general principles for identifying human disease genes and enabling their application to medicine through the creation and analysis of genetic, physical and sequence maps of the human genome.  
"We are incredibly happy for our colleagues who have received such an amazing recognition of their pioneering research. By honoring and celebrating our scientific heroes, this award is inspirational to the next generation of scientists and highlights the impact that stem cell research has on human lives," says Janet Rossant, president-elect of the ISSCR, who will succeed Yamanaka as ISSCR president following the ISSCR Annual Meeting in June.  
The other eight winners of the inaugural Breakthrough Prize were:
  • Cornelia I. Bargmann of Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for the genetics of neural circuits and behavior and synaptic guidepost molecules
  • David Botstein of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and Princeton University for linkage mapping of Mendelian disease in humans using DNA polymorphisms
  • Lewis C. Cantley of the Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital for the discovery of PI 3-Kinase and its role in cancer metabolism 
  • Titia de Lange of the Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics and the Anderson Center for Cancer Research at Rockefeller University for research on telomeres, illuminating how they protect chromosome ends and their role in genome instability in cancer
  • Napoleone Ferrara of the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, for discoveries into the mechanisms of angiogenesis that led to therapies for cancer and eye diseases
  • Charles L. Sawyers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for cancer genes and targeted therapy
  • Bert Vogelstein of the Ludwig Center and the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center for work on cancer genomics and tumor suppressor genes
  • Robert A. Weinberg of MIT and the Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology for characterization of human cancer genes
The prize is administered by the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to advancing breakthrough research, celebrating scientists and generating excitement about the pursuit of science as a career, as well as rewarding specific scientists "who think big, take risks and have made a significant impact on our lives."
Founding sponsors of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences include Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan and Yuri Milner, who collectively have agreed to establish five annual prizes of $3 million each going forward. These prizes will be awarded for past achievements in the field of life sciences, with the aim of providing the recipients with more freedom and opportunity to pursue even greater future accomplishments.
The Charles River is an 80-mile-long river that flows in an overall northeasterly direction in eastern Massachusetts. From its source in Hopkinton, the river travels through 23 cities and towns until reaching the Atlantic Ocean at Boston. The river is well known for the rowing, sculling, dragonboating and sailing that takes place along it length, both recreational and competitive. CREDIT: Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau

Oversight should not be overlooked  
ISSCR emphasizes importance of regulatory oversight for stem cell products for clinical use

SKOKIE, Ill.—As with so many societies in the life-science arena, the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) not only organizes annual meetings and other educational efforts but also juggles such issues as research breakthroughs and concerns, public health, regulatory matters and more. Of particular concern this spring to the ISSCR is noting the importance of regulatory oversight for stem cell products for clinical use—an issue arising from the society's concern that the Italian government has authorized what it calls "an unproven stem cell therapy" for use in patients.  
A recent decision announced by Italy's health minister authorized the administration of cells that have been described as mesenchymal stem cells to patients with neurological disorders, and this has raised concern not just for the ISSCR but in the international research community at large, the ISSCR says.  
As the society notes, "It is not clear based on the scientific literature that mesenchymal stem cells have any ability to ameliorate neurological conditions nor is there compelling evidence from clinical trials that such cells provide benefit to patients with neurological conditions."   Also, the ISSCR points out that the Italian Medicines Agency had previously denied this treatment.
In addition to reminding people of the importance of regulatory oversight, the ISSCR has specifically urged Italian lawmakers to heed concerns of scientists around the world about "the premature practice of unproven stem cell treatments" and to recognize the importance of regulatory oversight and patient protection when developing new stem cell medicines.  
"Stem cells have the potential to improve the treatment of many serious diseases but cell-based therapies present new challenges. In our enthusiasm to advance cures, we must not ignore the laws and regulations that exist to protect patients and ensure that medicines are manufactured under rigorous conditions and then proven safe and effective before being marketed by companies," says Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, ISSCR's 2012-2013 president. "Patients have been harmed when treatments circumvent the medical regulatory process. We stress the importance of regulatory oversight at many stages in the development of new stem cell therapies, and the testing of these therapies in controlled clinical trials to generate knowledge that can help all patients."  
As the society notes, the ISSCR's "Guidelines for the Clinical Translation of Stem Cells," published in 2008, emphasize that processing and manufacture of any cell product should be conducted under expert, independent review and oversight, to ensure as much as possible the quality and safety of the cells. The guidelines recommend adherence to GMP procedures for extensively manipulated stem cells intended for clinical application. Moreover, the ISSCR reiterates the value of a strong biological rationale for clinical interventions with stem cell-based products, based on rigorous evidence from preclinical studies and a plausible hypothesis for how cells are expected to improve a disease process.  
"We sympathize with patients with incurable diseases," Yamanaka says. "However, there is little objective reason to believe that these patients have the possibility of benefitting from a mesenchymal stem cell therapy and treatment decisions should not be made outside of a controlled clinical trial without data on safety and efficacy."  
The ISSCR believes that innovative and compassionate care is important, but untested therapies should only be offered outside of clinical trials in limited circumstances where there is sound theoretical reason to believe the patient could benefit. This exception, the society notes, does not justify commercializing unproven therapies.

Scripps scientists find antibody that transforms bone marrow stem cells into brain cells  
LA JOLLA, Calif.—While is isn't directly related to the ISSCR 11th Annual Meeting, an April announcement by the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) may be of interest to meeting attendees, as TSRI says some of its researchers have found a way to turn bone marrow stem cells directly into brain cells thanks to "a serendipitous discovery" while working with antibodies.
The researchers discovered the method, reported in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of April 22, while looking for lab-grown antibodies that can activate a growth-stimulating receptor on marrow cells. One antibody turned out to activate the receptor in a way that induces marrow stem cells—which normally develop into white blood cells—to become neural progenitor cells, a type of almost-mature brain cell.

"These results highlight the potential of antibodies as versatile manipulators of cellular functions," said Richard A. Lerner, the Lita Annenberg Hazen Professor of Immunochemistry and institute professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at TSRI, and principal investigator for the new study. "This is a far cry from the way antibodies used to be thought of—as molecules that were selected simply for binding and not function."

Current techniques for turning patients' marrow cells into cells of some other desired type are relatively cumbersome, risky and effectively confined to the lab dish, TSRI notes. The new finding from its scientists points to the possibility of simpler and safer techniques, it adds, as cell therapies derived from patients' own cells are widely expected to be useful in treating spinal cord injuries, strokes and other conditions throughout the body, with little or no risk of immune rejection.

To return to part one of the ISSCR annual meeting coverage, click here.



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