10 finalists for Stem Cell Person of the Year 2016

scpoy-2016-finalistsThe voting on the 20 nominees for Stem Cell Person of the Year finished at midnight last night.

After more than 1,000 votes, we have the top 10 finalists.

These ten are some of the most remarkable people in the world of stem cells today. They have all had great impact, but in very diverse ways.

They run the spectrum from patient advocates to the President of CIRM to a host of top stem cell researchers. Patient advocates Ted Harada and Judy Roberson have the top two spots in terms of votes.

Now I have the tough task of picking just one winner as the Stem Cell Person of the Year. The awardee wins international recognition as the top outside the box thinker and positive impactor of the year and a $2,000 prize. You can read more about all the 20 people who were nominated here.

Vote now for your pick for Stem Cell Person of the Year 2016

Vote on your pick for the top stem cell outside the box thinker and positive impactor in 2016 from the 20 choices below. The top 10 vote getters will be finalists from which I will have the tough task of picking the one winner as Stem Cell Person of the Year along with the $2,000 prize and recognition.

You can vote once per day. The voting closes in 10 days on December 15th at 11:59pm Pacific Time. Read more about the 20 nominees here.

20 Nominees for Stem Cell Person of the Year 2016 Award

stem-cell-person-of-the-year-awardI received a score of great nominations for the Stem Cell Person of the Year 2016 Award and have briefly described the twenty nominees below. The point of the award is to honor the top positive stem cell leader who specifically thinks outside the box and takes risks.

I’ve started an on-line vote where you can vote once per day for your favorite nominee(s) for Stem Cell Person of the Year. The top half or so of nominees getting the most votes will be the finalists from which I will choose the final winner, who receives the $2,000 prize and international recognition as a global leader in the stem cell and regenerative medicine field.

Past winners of the Stem Cell Person of the Year Award include the following:

  • Top stem cell scientist Jeanne Loring in 2015.
  • Pioneering vision and pluripotent stem cell clinical researcher, Masayo Takahashi in 2014.
  • Neural stem cell scientist and very effective Italian politician Elena Cattaneo in 2013.
  • Stem cell patient advocate Roman Reed in 2012.

Here are the 2016 nominees in alphabetical order by first name with some description of who they are and a bit of the words from the person(s) who nominated them in some cases. Where I could find a link to websites describing their accomplishments, I have provided those.

Amy Wagers, Professor at Harvard. She has a long track record of cutting edge research on stem cells including recently very provocative work on the role of stem cells in human aging and approaches to reversing aging.

Arnold Caplan, Professor at Case Western Reserve. He is often considered the “father” of the mesenchymal stem/stromal cell (medicinal signaling cell) field and has done important research on MSCs over many years.

Connie Eaves, Distinguished Investigator at Terry Fox Laboratory at UBC. She has a remarkable track record of innovative research on stem cells including both normal and cancer stem cells and a reputation as a fantastic mentor and leader in the field more generally. “Brilliant scientist with unmatched piercing view of science”.

Hiroshi Nagashima, Professor at Meiji University, Tokyo. “A true translational scientist (with a wicked sense of humor!)” He works in part on cloning technology and could revolutionize organ transplantation approaches leading to huge impact.

Jim Gass. Jim is a patient who suffered a stroke and then sought stem cell treatments to try to reverse some of the damage. Somewhere along the lines, one or more of the unproven stem cell therapies he received caused him to develop a spinal tumor. He had the courage to go public with his story and describe his experiences, potentially risking litigation. “A gutsy man who has prevented others from getting injured.”

John Pimanda, Associate Professor of Medicine and Stem Cell Biology, UNSW Australia. He researches transcriptional regulation of adult stem cells and now the use of fat stem cells for spine injury.

Judy Roberson. She is a tireless Huntington’s Disease (HD) advocate, always working to make a positive difference. “She is a straight shooter who will tell you what she thinks and work to make it a reality.”

Jun Takahashi. He is a Professor at CiRA and pluripotent stem cell biology researcher. Jun has done pioneering IPSC research and is working to start a very exciting Parkinson’s Disease clinical trial using IPSC in Japan.

Margaret Goodell, Professor at Baylor College of Medicine. She is an internationally respected scholar in the stem cell field. She conducts cool, innovative research on transcriptional and epigenetic regulation of hematopoietic stem cells and how this goes awry in leukemias.

Mike West. Often mentioned as one of the founders of the regenerative medicine field, he is the leader of BioTime and is a thought leader in the field. “Mike knows all about taking risks in regenerative medicine leading to big, positive leaps forward.”

Nissim Benvenisty, Professor of Genetics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is a super-prolific, long-time stem cell researcher. His latest work this year was on revolutionary production of haploid ES cells.

Oliver Brustle, Professor and Director of the Institute of Reconstructive Neurobiology and Professor of Reconstructive Neurobiology at the University of Bonn Medical Center. He conducts innovative neural stem cell research and is a globally respected stem cell leader.

Randy Mills, President and CEO of CIRM. He has been a leader in stem cell biotech for years and has shaken things up at the helm of CIRM with a much more translational emphasis. “Randy has CIRM on track to meaningful clinical outcomes in a way that I cannot imagine another leader could have achieved. The outcome will change the world.”

Richard Ambinder, Johns Hopkins Hospital. Professor Ambinder has done pioneering work in the area of stem cells and viruses, including HIV, as well as stem cells for patients with hematopoietic malignancies. A scientist with a prodigious publication record of high-impact papers.

Robert Lanza. He has been a regenerative medicine leader for, what, decades? Long time scientific leader behind ACT and then its new incarnation as Ocata, which was purchased by Astellas and he leads global regenerative medicine at Astellas.”We expect something new and big from Bob at every turn”.

Sally Temple, Scientific Director, Co-Founder, and Principle Investigator at the Neural Stem Cell Institute. She is also the President of ISSCR. Scholar and innovative researcher in the stem cell field with a focus on stem cells in the brain. Past MacArthur Fellow. “One of the brightest developmental biologists in the world and a natural leader.”

Sheng Ding, Senior Investigator, Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease. Dr. Ding has done some of the most creative and impactful research in the stem cell field to date, and continues to crank out new discoveries in particular related to chemical reprogramming. He also has co-founded a number of exciting biotechs including Fate Therapeutics. “He has been a positive leader in the stem cell field, and his outside-of-the-box thinking has greatly enhanced our collective efforts to advance the field.”

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Professor at ONPRC and OHSU. Shoukhrat is a top researcher in the stem and germ cell arenas of research including cloning and mitochondrial transfer, with cutting edge high impact papers published every year. “Fearless and one of the premier innovators in the field”.

Ted Harada (posthumous). Ted was one of the most prominent patients participating in a stem cell clinical trial ever. He fought for patients and efforts such as right to try every step along the way, and brought people together in the field. You can see his obituary and tributes here.

Theresa Liao. Powerful advocate for the use of stem cells to treat recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB). Through relentless advocacy she has made a profound difference in this area of clinical research.  “A parent and visionary patient advocate.”

Interview with Arnold Caplan, Part 4: the FDA and the Future

Today is part of 4 (the last) of my interview with Dr. Arnold Caplan, MSC godfather and guru.

You can read parts 1-3 of the interview herehere, and here.

In this post I focus on my discussion with Caplan on translation of stem cells to patients and the FDA.

During our conversation we talked about some of the challenges facing the efforts to make safe and effective stem cell therapies (including those based on MSCs) available to patients.

Of course one key element is regulatory oversight, which is important for protecting patients, but which, according to some in the field, is too onerous and slows everything down far too much.

When I asked Caplan about the FDA, he said, “There is no sinister plot.” What he was referring is the ubiquitous, but false claim by some in the non-compliant stem cell sector that the FDA and Big Pharma (and some academic scientists) are engaged in a plot to kill stem cell therapies because they are supposedly a threat to the profit stream of Big Pharma.

However, Caplan continued, “The FDA is inhibitory to translation of stem cell therapies to patients. There is no sense in regulating MSCs as a drug.”

Caplan went on to describe an interesting, new proposal that he is working on with Mike West and Andy VonEschenbach (former FDA commissioner, 2006-2009 and now a proponent of FDA reform, exemplified by his widely read editorial in the WSJ). In the new framework envisioned in the proposal, there would be progressive approval and after early phase success companies could get FDA approval to get paid for patient treatment as part of the process. Another element overall would be a greatly streamlined overall process that gets stem cell-based medicines to patients more quickly.

This priority fits with the results so far of my blog’s poll on FDA reform (still time to participate) where the top pick amongst respondents for a reform at the FDA in the stem cell field was speeding up the clinical trials process.

Caplan concluded on the FDA with a powerful overall take-home message, “A test of any civilization is laws and we need the FDA, but we also need faster access for patients to stem cell therapies.”

I really enjoyed talking with Dr. Caplan (thank you!) and I hope you enjoyed this series of blog posts on the interview.


Interview with Arnold Caplan Part 2: propagation, placebos, patients, and publishing

I recently interview Arnold Caplan, the father of the MSC field, and published part 1 of the interview (you can read it here).

Today in part 2 we cover more topics of great importance related to MSCs including propagation, placebos, and patients as well as publishing.

A hot topic in the stem cell world more generally, but especially in the MSC field is what happens to stem cells when they are grown in a lab. Many important questions are being asked. Are the propagated stem cells basically the same as the starting stem cells? If not, how are they different? Should people be concerned about getting transplants of propagated cells?

I asked Caplan about how MSCs react to growth in culture. He acknowledged that MSCs grown in culture do change. “The longer you culture MSCs, the less they can differentiate,” said Caplan, “however, the MSCs retain their ability to inhibit immunosurveillance and to secrete trophic factors”. As discussed in the first segment of this interview, Caplan’s view is that it is these two functions rather than any stem cell-related properties of MSCs that are of the greatest therapeutic importance.

Caplan also mentioned another way in which culturing might change MSCs and in this case have clinical significance. After transplantation, high passage MSCs are more likely to become coated with clotting factor in the donor’s body and become trapped in the lung, reducing their efficacy. Thus, perhaps as is true with so many types of stem cells, lower passage is likely to be safer and more effective.

We also discussed how MSCs are likely to work clinically. One topic was the very important 2012 paper from Katarina LeBlanc’s team on autopsy data from patients who had received MSC transplants. The paper argued for quite limited engraftment of MSCs in support of the idea that nearly all transplanted MSCs do not engraft and rather function in a “hit and run” way to aid patients.

Caplan also acknowledged that many patients receiving MSC transplants (or transplants of other stem cells or even other kinds of medical interventions) definitely experience a significant placebo effect. The placebo effect that some patients experience with treatments can be substantial, up to 30%. However, Caplan passed on the experience of many physicians who are transplanting MSCs in RCTs where, according to Caplan, the doctors can easily tell which patients received placebo and which received stem cells, because those who received MSCs are doing so much better.

Interestingly, Caplan also pointed out that paradoxically for some patients, allogeneic MSC transplants might be more promising than autologous. In this regard, he mentioned how MSCs from healthy people appear to be more functional than MSCs from multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

Caplan mentioned that there are 100s of patients receiving MSCs worldwide. I asked him why then are there so few publications. Caplan responded, “if only they would publish it would help everyone and the field.” I also would like to see more publications in this area.

Stay tuned for part III of the interview coming up in a few days.