5 big picture stem cell trends at #ISSCR2016

Now that the ISSCR annual meeting is over, some overall stem cell trends are evident from the meeting in terms of the direction of the stem cell field. This was one of my favorite ISSCR meetings.

Translation expectation and upbeat tone. The overall vibe at the meeting was a sense of excitement and optimism about the field and where it stands in terms of advancing knowledge and translating stem cells to the clinic. There are challenges and debates over the different possible paths forward, but the general buzz at the meeting was positive and optimistic. It was also great to see quite an impact from patient advocates at the meeting including from several who were speakers.

There was also much more discussion of stem cell regulations and clinical translation even amongst more basic scientists than in past years. I expect the debate over stem cell clinical regulations will continue to be a major focus for the field in the coming year.

ISSCR 2016 packed house

Differentiation differentiates itself. From the talks I attended, the most striking change from past ISSCR meetings was the relatively large focus on differentiation. While there was still lots of discussion of potency of stem cells and inherent stem cell properties, there was much more emphasis on mechanisms of commitment and differentiation. How do cells properly exit the stem cell state to become the correct kind of progenitors and then terminally differentiated cells? At ISSCR 2016 one of the key stem cell trends was the big emphasis placed on answering this question. More focus on differentiation is valuable.

Stem and the single cell. I was surprised by the number of talks on single cell studies and in particular transcriptomics but also chromatin work. The last few years people have been energized by the idea of single cell RNA-Seq and similar approaches based on analyzing groups of individual cells rather than pools of cells, but in practical terms some have been raising questions about how to get such work done, the cost, and the best technology to use. We heard at #ISSCR2016 how as few as 50-100 cells of a given type versus others can give a fairly solid picture of the transcriptome, although of course several-fold higher numbers will give stronger comparisons. It was interesting also that in some talks single cell transcriptomic profiles can then be used to identify the different types of cells in mixed populations based on signatures. Can single cell studies become accessible much more broadly to labs around the world?

Less on IPS? I could be wrong, but I got the feeling that despite the continued excitement about IPS cells that this ISSCR annual meeting had less focus relatively speaking on them than past ones at least. There were more talks on ES cells and adult stem cells from what I saw.

CRISPR feels pretty standard. Almost everyone is excited about CRISPR-based gene editing, but at this meeting to me it felt like CRISPR was mostly only a side note. It’s a method to get at genetic events and molecular mechanisms, but it itself did not generate that much buzz.

These trends struck me at the meeting. What stem cell trends did you notice at ISSCR this year?

3 thoughts on “5 big picture stem cell trends at #ISSCR2016”

  1. I felt it was a good meeting. There was indeed less iPSC basic science, but more on the iPSC translational side, which indicated that these cells might indeed get closer to the clininc. However, I felt that safety issues were often not adequately adressed and some claims seemed far out (e.g. sangamo talk on targeted transgene integration efficiencies). The last talk by B. T. revealed another shortcoming: we need more of these excellent molecular genetics/biochemsitry studies on basic ESC biology. There is so much at this level that is unique to stem cells that requires attention.

  2. Compared to last year (my first meeting), I noticed what appeared to be a reduced focus on neural stem cells. Since I’m a neuroscientist, that sucked ;)…

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