I was surprised when I looked at the program and recognized so few of the names of speakers; which made me question what this event was about, if not focused on stem cell research. This was a relatively naïve step from someone who has spent their entire academic career working on mouse embryonic stem cells and attending academic-focused conferences, far away from human patients and all of the issues and expertise that would be required to take my academic work and apply it to ‘society’ and humans in the clinic….
There are several concurrent tracks at the WSCS;
- Discovery – latest scientific discoveries in stem cells and regenerative medicine research, with consideration given to clinical product thinking at early discovery stages…bench to industry to bedside is the slogan.
- Regmed capital conference – advancing investment and commercialization to accelerate cures. Connects regenerative medicine companies to investors, bringing start-up angel capital and new money into the field.
- Technology innovation showcase – technologies, products and services focus on defining quality systems to meet manufacturing, regulatory, clinical trial needs, specialized expertise, training and sharing data
- Translation and clinical trials – showcases significant clinical trials from around the world discussing overcoming regulatory obstacles and the role of patients
- Regenerative services and applications – the emerging role of regenerative medicine in clinical practice aimed at preparing clinicians and hospital administrators transitioning regenerative medicine into day-to-day medical practice and giving families the tools to make informed decisions about future treatments
- Hot topics and future trends – focusing on bold and innovative solutions, showcasing guru-visionaries and inspiring advocacy leaders as well as the critical unmet need for cell standardization, integrity of scientific progress and how insurance products will revolutionize the cell therapy and storage industries.
- Ethics, law and society – universal consents for research and clinical trials, technology transfer, intellectual property, comparative law; regulatory law; compliance with FTC, FDA, EMA, best practices for IRB’s and ESCRO committees, moratorium on modifying the human germline, right-to-try legislation and more
What struck me in this program is that there is little focus on ‘basic’ research and instead a heavy focus on translational and applied research, representing the vast diversity of stakeholders critical to this. I have been to ISSCR a few times and never seen a session directed to hospital administrators or talks on insurance products. There are so many worlds in this program that as an academic I have never been exposed to and guaranteed I will never master them all. However, I feel that to validate my ‘significance’ slide, I need to learn a little about these fields or at least make contact with experts in these fields.
While we in the pluripotent world are just getting excited about preliminary results from PSC macular degeneration clinical trials, this program shows just how many ‘real world’ technologies and applications there already are, a wealth of knowledge to the researcher who wants to better plan the direction of their technologies to clinical and commercial applications. As someone said to me recently, there are only so many things you can do with cells, you grow them, dissociate them, concentrate them, and deliver them. Whether you do this with adult stem cells or pluripotent stem cells a lot of the practical and regulatory issues are going to overlap so there is a lot to learn from current applications.
What I love about the Genetics Policy Institute and the WSCS is how nicely their goals and focus complement ISSCR. ISSCR guarantees that basic and applied stem cell research will always get the attention and support it deserves. The board of ISSCR is full of PhD and MD titles that ensure this organization will always uphold the values and importance of the scientific method and development of innovative and efficacious treatments. This is not a small job and requires a wealth of scientific knowledge and experience. The GPI represents the ‘real world’ where human interaction determines the success of a technology, regardless of how brilliant it is. To form the right networks for engaging scientists, business, public, patient, policy, finance, insurance, law etc., towards “a positive policy, regulatory and societal framework to allow research to flourish under high ethical and medical standards” is the premiere goal of GPI.
To finish, I hope that every stem cell researcher puts the World Stem Cell Summit high in your priorities to attend and to send your lab members. The vast majority of PhDs/post docs will need to leave academia at some stage and the earlier we are exposed to the plethora of career options required to get our beloved stem cells to the public the better!