The collective brain power in the room was pretty staggering. The meeting brought together stem cell leaders from academia, industry, startup incubators and funding agencies. The purpose of the meeting was three fold: 1.) foster collaboration between US and Japanese stem cell researchers, 2.) facilitate interaction between academics and industry, and 3.) to honor Dr. Shinya Yamanaka for his grounding breaking iPSC work that won him the Nobel Prize last year (see photo from Cell Stem Cell post on Facebook).
Yamanaka gave a great keynote address that showcased his sense of humor and his continuing efforts to bring iPSC technology to the clinic (including developing needed homozygous HLA iPSC lines). When asked for his advice to ambitious young researchers, he recommended paying close attention to unexpected results in the lab. After all, he noted, the seed of his iPSC research came when he got confusing results from a potential cholesterol lowering drug that induced liver cancer in mice.
Aside from the great talks by some of the leaders in the field (Irving Wiessman, Hideyuki Okano, Deepak Srivastava, Mahendra Rao, Hiromitsu Nakauchi), there were a couple of outstanding panel discussions including one covering the future of stem cell technology that was moderated by Alan Trouson, president of CIRM. While another discussed academia and industry collaboration moderated by Regis Kelly of startup incubator QB3. One of the take home messages was that translational academics need to start engaging industry earlier on. There was also some sage advice from industry representatives indicating that academics thinking about developing startups really need to reach a significant level of maturity before spinning off in search of VC funding.
As the sun started to set over the bay and the jazz music and wine started to flow in the reception hall, it was hard not to be struck by a couple of ideas. One, we’re incredibly lucky here in California to have CIRM and strong patient advocacy organizations that help bridge the often lamented translational funding gap. Both of these groups have really been enormously helpful in bringing potential new stem cell therapeutics to the clinical trial pipeline. Second, hearing all of these great discussions really gave a taste of the zeitgeist of the field and although there is still a lot of work yet to be done, it’s hard not to be really excited about the future of stem cell technology as it draws closer and closer to the clinic.
I’d like to really thank Dr. Knoepfler for allowing me to attend this meeting and blog about it. It was incredibly informative and I was even lucky enough to expand my network a bit. I really hope there will be future meetings that bring together all of the major stake holders the way the World Alliance Forum was just able to do.
Guest Blogger-Johnathon D. Anderson, PhD Candidate
Institute for Regenerative Cures
University of California Davis Medical Center