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Nature Screen Capture

An editorial in the June 11th edition of Nature does two things remarkably well: it offers hope for the future of stem cell science while explaining why it takes so long to get things right.

Headlined “Good practice” the Nature piece explains why: “… shortcuts are simply not possible, despite charlatan claims. It takes time to learn how to coax stem cells — either from human embryos or from reprogrammed adult cells known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells — to develop into the right sort of replacement cell. It also takes time to work out how to get these cells to integrate into the host tissue and to function. And the steps required to work out how many replacement cells need to be delivered, and how to deliver them safely, cannot be rushed …”

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stemcelltourism stem cellshortsBack in January, we blogged about the StemCellShorts videos, a series of about-a-minute-long informative videos produced by Ben Paylor, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia, and Dr. Mike Long, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto.

A brand new video in the excellent series is now available. Narrated by Prof. Timothy Caulfield, a member of our Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, it answers the question “What is stem cell tourism?”

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ISSCR Screen Capture
 
The day before 3,600 scientists, clinicians, educators and industry professionals from around the world gather in Vancouver next week for the International Society of Stem Cell Researchers’ summit, the public will get a chance to hear about the ‘real deal’ on stem cells.
 
Moderated by the Vancouver Sun’s Pamela Fayerman, the Tuesday, June 17th symposium focuses on why stem cells, which have been hailed for the past two decades as having the potential to fight so many diseases, have -- with some notable exceptions -- been slow to deliver. 

TTAbout a year ago, we launched Toward Treatments, a user-friendly resource to help all Canadians -- but especially patients, their families and friends -- to understand:

• how stem cells can be used to treat devastating diseases;
• which stem cell therapies are currently accessible; and
• which ones could be available in the near future.

cellCAN officialCellCAN, a new national Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network officially began operations today in Montreal.

Based at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, the new Network will support clinical development of regenerative medicine.

"Regenerative cell therapies offer almost unlimited possibilities that will transform the very nature of medicine and will have a significant impact on our health systems," said Dr. Denis Claude Roy, a member of the Joint Strategy Working Group for the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy and Director of CellCAN, in a press release.

Making sure that Canadian patients have safe, early access to the kind of innovative treatments that will emerge from stem cell research was the focus of the Second Health Charities Forum.
 
 “There clearly is strong support for moving stem cell research forward safely and effectively,” says James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, which organized the Forum in partnership with the Health Charities Coalition of Canada.  “The health charities, which represent millions of patients, realize they have an absolutely vital role to play in making sure that patients benefit from the emergence of new stem cell based treatments and cures.”
Marc Turner Screen CaptureOver the next three years, a team of Scottish scientists hope to prove that the blood they are making from stem cells is as good as -- or even better -- for transfusions than the ordinary donated kind.
 
Although it has hardly raised an eyebrow in Canada, this potentially game-changing research has been big news in the United Kingdom where it was featured in the Daily Mail, a splashy tabloid with a circulation of 1.75 million. As the Mail suggested, this “could lead to a future where artificial blood is used more regularly than donated blood.”
 
Prof. Marc Turner, pictured left, leads a lab at the University of Edinburgh that has successfully produced red blood cells from human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (stem cells drawn from the skin that are reprogrammed to an embryonic-like state).  The researchers have made a careful study of the cells’ properties in test tubes and Petri dishes. “But the only real way of finding out if these are the Real McCoys and that they fit in the circulation the same way as normal red blood cells is do a proof of principle, ‘first in man’ study,”  says Prof. Turner, the Medical Director at Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service  and leader of the  £5 million ($9.27 million) project.
George Daley Screen CaptureCanada can play a lead role in the coming boom in regenerative medicine and cell therapy technologies, according to an International Expert Advisory Panel. 
 
Led by Chair Dr. George Q. Daley of Harvard Medical School, pictured at left, the panelists agreed that stem cell research and development is at a major inflection point, and that the next decade will see the arrival of novel disease treatments that will transform patients’ lives and build a new multibillion dollar cell therapy industry.
 
The Panel, with experts from stem cell research, ethics, and commercialization and the biomedical industry, met in Toronto earlier this spring to review a draft of the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan.
 
Panelists agreed that Canada is in a strong position thanks to a remarkable record of research excellence, from the discovery of stem cells more than 50 years ago by Drs. Jim Till and Ernest McCulloch to Dr. John Dick’s identification of the cellular origins of leukemia earlier this year.
JulieLessard IRIC 2-croppedWhile patience is a virtue for most of us, it is an absolute prerequisite for stem cell researchers.
 
The recent news that scientists have identified a gene called BRG1 that appears to regulate leukemia stem cells marks an important advance in understanding the dread disease. It also signifies years of work by the team led by Dr. Julie Lessard at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) of Université de Montréal.
 
“About four years,” says Dr. Lessard, pictured left, one of Canada’s leading researchers in the field of hematopoiesis -- the art of blood production.
 
Using mice as subjects, Dr. Lessard’s team found that removing the BRG1 gene left the leukemia stem cells and progenitors unable to survive, divide and make new tumors, permanently shutting down the cancer.  But while they are delighted with their findings, the researchers know they are in for many more years of work.
 
“We need to identify BRG1 inhibitors that will work in vitro (in test tubes and Petri dishes) and in vivo (with animals and humans),” says Dr. Lessard. “We believe that it is the ATPase activity that is the essential function we need to target for potential drug development, so that’s what we’re going after.”

pioneers of medicine without a noble prizeSince the first award was handed out in 1901, the Nobel Prize has become globally regarded as the most prestigious recognition of intellectual achievement. What's amazing, however, is how often the Nobel committee has glaringly overlooked researchers behind outstanding discoveries that changed the practice of medicine.

Pioneers of Medicine Without a Nobel Prize, just published by the United Kingdom's Imperial College Press, tells the stories of giants in medical science who somehow never won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.