Madison hosts World Stem Cell Summit starting today
Rapidly evolving industry is creating public forum
By MARK JOHNSON and KATHLEEN GALLAGHER
Posted: Sept. 20, 2008
With their field riding a wave of discovery and change, researchers, financiers and policy-makers from around the world will arrive today for the 2008 World Stem Cell Summit in Madison, the city where James Thomson started a scientific revolution almost a decade ago.
If any need confirmation of the rapidly changing landscape, it should come with this announcement planned for the summit: The two Madison companies co-founded by Thomson have merged and shifted their focus to products involving non-embryonic stem cells.
In 1998, Thomson was the first person to isolate human embryonic stem cells, launching a national debate and making Madison a major destination for stem cell research.
Last November, Thomson's team and a separate group from Japan made history and suggested a new direction for stem cells by reprogramming human skin cells back to an embryonic state. The new cells are known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells.
Ever since the reprogramming breakthrough, researchers have published a stream of papers using the new technique to rescue mice with sickle cell anemia and to create human cell lines from people with a host of different diseases. The cell lines hold the promise of allowing scientists to gain a new window into the disease process and a powerful new tool for testing drugs. Longer term, the new technology may allow doctors to use patients' own cells to treat genetic and other ailments.
Thomson's merged company, Cellular Dynamics International, is "moving rapidly" toward marketing human skin cells it reprograms into heart and blood cells that drug developers can use to test whether their compounds will be safe for humans, said Chris Kendrick-Parker, CDI's chief commercial officer.
"I think Wisconsin is going to be one of the epicenters of the pluripotent stem cell revolution," said Bob Palay, CDI's chairman and chief executive officer. Palay was also founder and chairman of NimbleGen Systems Inc., which was acquired last year by Roche Holding AG for $272.5 million.
Against this backdrop, Madison will host about 1,000 key players for the three-day summit, which kicks off today with events aimed at bringing the science of stem cells into the public arena.
"In many ways the summit is coming home to where it all began," Gov. Jim Doyle said.
Madison is also hosting the Safety Pharmaceutical Society's annual meeting Monday through Thursday at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. The society expects several hundred scientists, pharmaceutical industry representatives and others involved in drug development to attend.
The stem cell summit's "Lab on the Lake" today will allow visitors to watch videos of tiny beating heart cells, learn how scientists count cells and even peer through a microscope at Thomson's discovery: human embryonic stem cells.
The event was designed as a "public celebration of stem cells," according to Bernard Siegel, executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute, which promotes stem cell research and which organized the fourth annual summit.
"It's really meant so that people can get engaged in the subject matter, get their questions answered and become part of this broad consumer movement," he said.
"We want people to understand stem cell research and regenerative medicine," said Timothy Kamp, co-director of UW's Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center and a co-founder of CDI. "We feel it is transformative. It's going to transform the way medicine is practiced in the coming decades."
Along with Thomson's CDI, companies in Madison such as Stratatech, Stemina, Primorigen and CellCura are working in the emerging area of regenerative medicine that focuses on repairing or replacing diseased tissues and organs.
Stratatech, a UW-Madison spinoff company, isn't using stem cells. But it has developed a human skin cell line it can culture into skin substitutes for healing wounds.
"To my knowledge, you don't see this concentration of regenerative medicine or pluripotent stem cell companies in such a tight geographical concentration anywhere else in the world," said Andy DeTienne, licensing manager for stem cells at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which patents the work of Thomson and other UW-Madison researchers.
The summit continues Monday and Tuesday at the Alliant Energy Center with a range of sessions covering everything from progress on specific diseases to the new reprogramming technology, and legal, ethical and regulatory issues.
Not a typical meeting
"This isn't a typical scientific meeting where there will be headline breakthroughs," Kamp said. "This is more of a meeting to get the latest, greatest information out there - to understand where the field is.
"And it's not easy to understand where the field is right now. It's changing very quickly."
Expected highlights include a panel discussion Monday on "How Stem Cell Research Is Transforming Health Care," and a keynote speech by Thomson, "A New Vision for Creating Patient-Specific Cells."
Doyle is scheduled to speak Monday night, and on Tuesday former Gov. Tommy Thompson is scheduled to take part in a discussion focusing on how industry, universities and government can develop stem cell businesses and therapies.
Other sessions showcase stem cell research on a variety of different ailments, including neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease, blindness and eye diseases, cancer, diabetes and spinal cord injuries. Some will include patients, doctors and advocates, and the news here may be sobering. Despite considerable progress, clinical trials for some ailments are probably years, if not decades, away.
"It's hard for people who don't work in the scientific community to understand how difficult this work is," said Mark Magnuson, director of Vanderbilt University's Center for Stem Cell Biology. "This is going to take a while, but it has opened up a door and taken us down a path from which there is no return."
The following is J. Wesley's post from his blog.
I can't think of any more vivid example of the dramatic change in the scientific and political paradigms regarding stem cell research than James Thomson, the discoverer of human ESCs--moving away from embryonic stem cell field and into IPSCs. From the story:
With their field riding a wave of discovery and change, researchers, financiers and policy-makers from around the world will arrive today for the 2008 World Stem Cell Summit in Madison, the city where James Thomson started a scientific revolution almost a decade ago. If any need confirmation of the rapidly changing landscape, it should come with this announcement planned for the summit: The two Madison companies co-founded by Thomson have merged and shifted their focus to products involving non-embryonic stem cells. We know why, of course. Cloning hasn't exactly panned out, besides which it would be far more contentious, dangerous for women due to egg procurement, complicated, and expensive. But IPSCs have really changed the paradigm:
Ever since the reprogramming breakthrough, researchers have published a stream of papers using the new technique to rescue mice with sickle cell anemia and to create human cell lines from people with a host of different diseases. The cell lines hold the promise of allowing scientists to gain a new window into the disease process and a powerful new tool for testing drugs. Longer term, the new technology may allow doctors to use patients' own cells to treat genetic and other ailments.I have always admired Thomson. I didn't agree with him on the ethical issues, but he never pretended embryonic stem cells didn't come from embryos. He never pretended that somatic cell nuclear transfer didn't create an embryo (KC Star and Kit Wagar, hello!), and he never denied that there weren't serious moral concerns with the entire embryonic field of research.May he live long and prosper and may the IPSCs and other ethical means of regenerative medicine succeed beyond all of our wildest dreams.
Labels: Lead Into Gold. James Thomson. IPSC. ESCR.
posted by Wesley J. Smith @ 8:23 AM 1 Comments
At September 24, 2008 , GrannyGrump said...
My sister recently had her cancer sent into remission -- by a treatment using her own stem cells from her bone marrow.And if my nephew, who was left paraplegic in a car crash, had the chutzpah to travel to Russia, he could get stem cell treatments from his NOSE that would enable him to walk again.Don Ho's heart disease was cured using stem cells from HIS nose.Embryonic stem cells have still produced nothing but dead lab rats and one batch of Parkinson's patients left with devastating results.Why can't Michael J. Fox and the other embryo-gutters just get with the program and admit that their pet project is a total wash?