By Agnes Soos
Among the hustle and bustle of downtown Boston, nearly four 1000 researchers and exhibitors gathered for the 15th Annual ISSCR Meeting. With presentations from over thirty plenary classes, and dozens of others featured in concurrent sessions as well as the daily Innovation Showcases, there definitely was no shortage associated with exciting research to discover and discuss. There was a record amount of exhibitors this year with over 150 companies set up in Display Hall. Added to this, the always-busy Meet-Up Hubs, the work boards peppered with posted offerings, and the popular Meet-the-Experts luncheons and Junior Investigator Career Panel (both along with full wait-lists) offered an array of networking opportunities that certainly did not disappoint!
Although the program broadly covered stem cells in development, illness, and their applications to human health, iPSC-related function featured prominently throughout the Meeting. Central to this focus on iPSC research – and quite popular among the attendees – was your plenary talk by Shinya Yamanaka. His lecture talked about the two major medical applications of iPSCs: cell treatment and disease model/drug development. Under the cell therapy subject, he relayed the high costs associated with autologous treatments and layed out the research that has gone into identifying HLA homozygous “ super” donors to overcome the prohibitive nature associated with allogeneic therapies. Though a first transplant was successfully carried out in March of this year, this work still confronts some challenges. Namely, facility-dependent handling practices appear to effect the occurrence of mutations within cancer-driving genes from the iPSC clones, necessitating further study and perhaps tighter control over how these cultures are handled. On the topic associated with disease modeling and drug development, Yamanaka outlined earlier successes in using iPSCs to gain a better understanding of Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva and the effective use of patient-derived cultures in order to conduct in vitro drug screening.
Organoids and organogenesis was a hot topic at this year’ s i9000 Meeting with dedicated plenary and concurrent sessions offering a range of excellent talks. Juergen Knoblich’ s plenary lecture provided the advantages offered by 3D organoid cultures – namely, their particular ability to recapitulate features of brain development and disease which usually cannot be easily studied using animal model systems. For instance , cerebral organoids have been developed using patient-specific iPSCs in order to model microcephaly. Knoblich also discussed some of the advantages of presenting bioengineered matrices to manipulate organoids, demonstrating improved organoid era with specific scaffold materials. Although organoid ‘ mini-brains’ to study neural development and disease were the topic of many talks, other areas of organoid research included intestinal epithelium (‘ mini guts’ ), pancreas, kidney, liver, plus lung.
Other highlights included talks from the recipients of the McEwen Award for Innovation, Elaine Fuchs, and the Dr . Leslie Lim Award for Outstanding Young Investigator, Jayaraj Rajagopal. Fuchs expertly summarized four decades of research upon skin stem cells in a mere 20 minutes, within the current understanding of stem cell activity and function within normal tissue, with aging, and in cancer, using the epidermis as a model system, with focus on cells within the locks follicle niche. Rajagopal lectured on the topic of air passage epithelium and the interactions of three constituent cell varieties – a stem cell, progenitor cell, and post-mitotic differentiated cell. He presented the value of this model within studying regeneration and outlined the complexity of mobile interactions in this relatively simple cellular ensemble. Both of these talks had been presented as part of the plenary session on Tissue Regeneration plus Homeostasis.
Unsurprisingly, lectures in all sessions introduced some very exciting science. Topics covered in the other plenary talks included: Chromatin and RNA Biology in Come Cells, Stem Cells and Cancer, Stem Cells plus Stress, Senescence, and Aging, and the Frontiers of Cellular Therapy.
In addition to the above, perhaps the most memorable talk of the Conference was the address by Sanford Greenberg on his quest to finish blindness. Greenberg discussed his own experiences, relaying the challenges he faced when he become blind at nineteen years of age. He outlined the goals of the Greenberg Reward, a $3 million award (in gold), which has the particular intent of rallying the international research community to concentrate efforts towards ending blindness by year 2020.
Developing effective treatments – or perhaps even treatments – through clinical applications of some of the research introduced at the Meeting does appear promising. This was exemplified with the work presented in the final plenary session by Masayo Takahashi on the successful use of iPSC for retinal cellular therapy. However , although the results of this work are result in for excitement, Takahashi emphasized the importance of being cautious within our optimism. Though there may be progress, she is often faced with the task of being unable to accommodate all patients seeking treatment. Hence, she emphasized, although we must promote our successes, we ought to avoid placing too much emphasis on champion cases and avoid buzz, so that together we may see healthy progress within the come cell field.