Looking Back at the 2014 ISSCR Annual Meeting

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Last Saturday afternoon, the exhibition hall at the Vancouver Convention Center resembled a student apartment post-party: cardboard boxes scattered everywhere, glasses lingering on tables and exhausted participants packing to leave. The sentiment among those leaving was dual: on one hand, exhaustion from the grueling schedule of the previous four days and on the other, a sense of accomplishment thanks to a meeting that was, by all accounts, well attended and very successful.

The 12th Annual ISSCR Meeting had just wrapped. Akron was there, among over 40 other exhibitors, and over 3000 scientists sharing our latest research and showcasing our products and services.

For Akron, the meeting was a roaring success: our booth was a constant source of scientific exchange as was our scientific poster, presented on the first day of the meeting, on novel cryopreservation solutions.

Increasingly evident is the research community’s interest on reprogramming of pluripotent stem cells and as well as the development of novel scaffolds for 3D cell culture.

The meeting opened with the Presidential Symposium, where a number of talks were given. Among those, Dr. Lorenz Studer, Professor at the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, discussed about his lab’s pioneering work on novel strategies for the differentiation of pluripotent stem cells for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Studer’s lab pioneered techniques to obtain dopamine neurons from mouse embryonic stem cells in a multi-step differentiation protocol, starting from embryonic stem cells, and generating, in sequence, embryoid bodies, early ectodermal cells, proliferating CNS precursors, and, finally, neurons and glia.

The meeting focused heavily on fundamental stem cell research, although some room was also given to tracks dedicated to clinical applications and translational work. One such track, titled “Therapies in the Clinic” had a varied mix of talks: from a patient advocate discussing her experiences with stem cell therapy, to a discussion on stem cell clinics to scientific talks. Among those, Dr. Leigh Turner from the University of Minnesota touched on a controversial subject: the regulatory climate surrounding dubiously legal stem cell clinics in the USA. Dr. Turner pointed out the rapid proliferation of such clinics and how they manage to fluorish in a regulatory climate that allows for minimal regulation. He used the Cell Surgical Network (CSN) as a case study, a controversial organization that is believed to be involved in the untested administration of an increasing number of cell therapies. That the subject is hotly debated right now is evident from a recent article published in Nature that discusses on this very same issue and touches on important regulatory efforts surrounding the operations of such clinics. It is evident that while many researchers, as well as doctors, are willing to push the administration of such unapproved therapies to willing patients, it is important to consider that many of these patients are coerced into accepting such therapies because they simply know no better and the potential outcomes sound too good.

The session on Aging and Metabolism presented some fascinating research on the current state of the stem cell field in answering questions related to aging. During the session, Dr. Kirsty Spalding, Assistant Professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at the Karolinska Institute discussed her lab’s focus on cell turnover in human brain and fat tissue. In particular, Dr. Spalding has long been fascinated on adipocyte turnover in humans as a target for the treatment of metabolic disease. The function of adipocytes has direct effects on blood vessels, appetite, energy homeostasis, blood pressure and lipid metabolism. Her latest research spanned years of work, during which she studied lipid age by by measuring (14)C derived from above ground nuclear bomb tests in adipocyte lipids and found that during a ten-year lifespan of human adipocytes, triglycerides contained within them are renewed six times. Moreover, the number of fat cells between an obese person and a person with normal weight is the same: it is their size that changes as the person loses or gains weight.

The plenary session on bioengineering featured some heavyweights in the bioengineering, chemical engineering and biochemical engineering fields: Dr. Molly Stevens from Imperial College London discussed the development of novel self assembling nanomaterial scaffolds for the sensing of biomolecules based on modular peptide functionalized gold nanoparticles and quantum dots. Technology also plays an important part in Dr. Peter Zandstra’s research. His research uses predictive mathematical modelling, microfabrication as well as traditional bioreactors to answer questions relating to the control of pluripotent stem cell self-renewal, the generation of blood and cardiac cells from pluripotent stem cells and inter-cellular signalling networks to grow human blood stem cells.

The poster sessions highlighted the current state of the research community by showcasing work of over 1,500 different labs around the world. The development of novel 3D scaffolds was a big draw: almost 100 posters showcased novel technologies and materials to achieve optimal 3D cell differentiation on engineered 3D substrates. Among these, Dr. Giuseppe Maria de Peppo from the The New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute highlighted some recent work on skeletal reconstitution using iPS cells on 3D clots of fibrin and decellularized bone scaffolds, while microfluidic technology was implemented in a poster by Dr. Yong Chen of Kyoto University on a high-throughput microfluidic device in based on a biocompatible and thermo-responsive hydrogel to create an artificial 3D niche for the systematic investigation of cellular function and fate decisions.

The marriage of technology and basic research was a reflection of the industry’s expansion and the broadening towards multidisciplinarity of what has traditionally been a fundamental science-driven field and a sign that in order to achieve more complex solutions, more complex systems will be needed.

Akron was also busy handing out our super-popular t-shirts: we actually ran out of them at the meeting (sorry to those who missed them). Check out the t-shirt below and contact us to get your own – we will contact you when they are available again.

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