ISSCR Releases Flood of Stem Cell Policy Docs

A committee of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) did one heck of a document dump yesterday on stem cell policy, releasing a whole bunch of policy recommendations on stem cells and more.

The torrent from ISSCR included a 37-page policy statement itself as well as several papers in top journals including the Lancet, Science, and Nature.

This output was the product of the members of a special  ISSCR Task Force, whose members I have listed at the bottom of this post. Who are the members? These are knowledgable, extremely bright people who care deeply about the issues.

ISSCR Policy Guidelines 2016

The stem cell policy positions of ISSCR and those in the associated publications were wide-ranging, touching upon everything from avoiding stem cell research hype to policies on human embryos to CRISPR of human embryos to three-person IVF/mitochondrial transfer, to clinical trials generally to patient-funded trials and more.

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Lorenz Studer named 2015 MacArthur Fellow for stem cell work

The annual selection of MacArthur Fellows highlights creative leaders in a variety of fields. The fellows receive $625,000 with no strings attached.

Stem cell biologists have been selected on a regular basis over the years as MacArthur Fellows including Kevin Eggan (2006), Sally Temple (2008), and Yukiko Yamashita (2011).

This year’s group of two-dozen 2015 MacArthur Fellows includes stem cell biologist Lorenz Studer (see video above). You can learn much more about Dr. Studer’s work on his lab’s home page here.

Lorenz Studer

Screenshot from MacArthur video

The announcement highlights Studer’s work on creating dopaminergic neurons (the type lost in Parkinson’s Disease) from stem cells including in particular from IPS cells, and broader implications of his work to neuro conditions:

“Lorenz Studer is a stem cell biologist pioneering a new method for large-scale generation of dopaminergic neurons that could provide one of the first treatments for Parkinson’s disease and prove the broader feasibility of stem cell–based therapies for other neurological disorders.”

Big congrats to Dr. Studer!

This is good news for the overall stem cell field as well.

ISSCR President Sean Morrison on challenges and future of stem cell field

Sean Morrison M.D.I recently chatted with Sean Morrison, current President of ISSCR, on his goals for the Society, where the stem cell field stands today, top challenges, and the future.

What are your goals for your tenure as President of ISSCR?

SM: ISSCR is the international voice for research in the scientific community. There’s been less effort though amongst policy makers and the general public. I want to expand the reach beyond just the scientists. ISSCR will be building its capacity to participate in stem cell policy issues worldwide and also it’s capacity to communicate with the public.

What’s the plan to make this happen?

SM: A range of things. Beefing up ISSCR communications programs. Blogging, twitter and other efforts.

What are the main challenges & opportunities that ISSCR faces now?

SM: ISSCR has had steady and remarkable growth. It has grown and its scope has grown too. Managing the growth is a challenge. Prioritizing future opportunities. How can we have the most impact for the membership? How can we grow that impact? The annual meeting continues to grow. International ISSCR symposia have grown. Publishing activities have expanded including with Cell Stem Cell and now Stem Cell Reports. We continue to expand those kinds of activities. There is a set of opportunities related to going beyond the science. Our mission is to improve human health through stem cells. We can’t do that solely by meetings and publishing. Those are critical core activities, but there’s more that we can do such as in industry. Reaching out to those stakeholders. Expanding the activities of the Global Advisory Council (philanthropists, Susan Lim, and Deepak), stem cell policy, and communication.

How can ISSCR bring in more industry people?

SM: I do think more involvement of industry is important. How best can we do that? I attended the Industry Committee meeting at ISSCR meeting in Stockholm, where we had that conversation. I really do hope that we can increase the attractiveness and value provided by the annual meeting to people in industry. We want people talking about exciting unpublished data. One difficulty comes up though in this regard: who from industry is willing to talk about unpublished data? Some people have shown up in the past and are not willing to talk about data. The program committee needs to address that.

What’s your view on the evolution of the IPSC subfield?

SM: I’m excited about stem cells generally. We need all kinds of stem cell research to move forward. Historically we’ve not been very good at predicting which cell type will work. I’m very excited about somatic stem cell research and pluripotent stem cells, both embryonic and IPSC. Look at the things going on at Shinya’s institute. They’ve been bold at diverse ways that they can have impact. With each year that goes by, the more plausible scenarios arise for possible therapies using pluripotent stem cells.

The pioneering IPSC trial in Japan was put on hold. How serious is that?

SM: If you’ve been culturing cells, some of the time there’s going to be mutations. The fact that they found the mutations says that the process that they have in place worked. It’s not uncommon in clinical trials for things to go on hold. It’s not unique to stem cell trials or IPSCs. I have every expectation that they’ll get that back on track. 

What are you most excited about with your own research?

SM: We’re doing a lot of work to characterize the HSC niche. We’ve now identified the cells that are sources of the key factors for stem cell maintenance. In many ways the hematopoietic system is a paradigm. This will allow us to understand at a single cell level how the niche works and look for novel growth factors. Each time we identify one of those it has the potential to provide new tools.

What do you see as the most important and exciting stem cell development or trend of 2015 so far?

SM: We’re at an inflection point in terms of stem cell therapies moving into high-quality clinical trials. In 2008 when we were fighting the public policy battles about where the line should be drawn on ESC research. Also there were people making claims about difficult problems. I was skeptical at the time. I felt that a lot of the problems could be too biologically complicated for cell therapies to work. Yet the science has surged forward much more quickly. There’s really exciting preclinical data and actual clinical trials that are about to start or have started. Spinal cord. Macular degeneration. And others. Some people have spent 10-20 years trying to understand the biology. Parkinson’s with Lorenz Studer. Cell therapy for heart disease with Chuck Murry. It’s important for the general public to understand the timeframe and that some will fail. In the past some were just squirting cells into tissues…sort of like buying a lottery ticket. People now understand the biology better. Now we have a rational chance of success.

The debate that is shaping up for CIRM is also very important now. Stem cell research is already delivering and there’s opportunity looking ahead. More funding for CIRM makes sense and it would be a major setback to not do that, especially with declining federal funding. One thing that will distinguish the winning states from the losing states is who has the vision to keep the biomedical research enterprise going at the state level. The conversation changed with CIRM’s birth. It became, “How do we keep up with California?”

The spread of stem cell clinics selling non-FDA approved offerings in the US has accelerated. What should ISSCR and individual stem cell scientists be doing to address this growing problem?

SM: There’s a lot that you’ve done and we appreciate that. There’s also a lot that ISSCR has done. We have our A Closer Look website. ISSCR has spoken out more on this topic than any other topic relevant to the general public. Although stem cell research has enormous promise—and this is the most exciting time that we’ve ever had—unfortunately most people in the general public don’t understand how long it takes to go from the idea or proof of principle in a mouse to do it in humans. Sadly there are fraudulent people out there that are preying on patients. These are at best unproven and in many cases not even plausible therapies.

Where do you see the stem cell field in 5-10 years?

SM:  We should be excited, but I’m always wary of these kinds of predictions. If we look over the last 10 years there’s been a lot of twists in the plot. There’s been both good news and bad news. Some things have surged forward more quickly and some things that we are most excited about now weren’t on our radar screens then. We don’t really know where we’re going to be. But I’m very optimistic. The thing that we have to remember that we always forget, even when we identify an idea that works, it takes a lot of years to get that to a patient. Look how long it took for bone marrow transplant to develop. We now talk about bone marrow transplant as an example but it took 14 years. We should bear in mind that even if some of the things now in clinical trials are correct, it could take years to develop them in a safe and efficient way.

Kick Off of ISSCR 2014: Some Top Highlights Of World Cup of Stem Cells

This morning at ISSCR 2014 in Vancouver things kicked off in an exciting way, kind of akin to a World Cup soccer/football match for fans of stem cells.

Azim Surani (pictured at right) received the McEwen Award for his innovative research on germ cell fate and epigenetic control mechanisms.Azim Surani

It was great to see Paolo Bianco, Elena Cattaneo, and Michele De Luca receive the ISSCR 2014 Public Service Award for their efforts in Italy to protect patients from the Stamina Foundation (for more that threat to the stem cell field, see here).

It’s resonates even more strongly that Cattaneo is part of the trio that got this ISSCR award as she was this blog’s Stem Cell Person of the Year Award winner for 2013 for her efforts.

We also heard about the launching of a new, very exciting ISSCR annual award. This award, the Ogawa Yamanaka Award, will be focused on the most exciting clinical/translational stem cell research and the recipient will get a cash prize of a whopping $150,000.

Later in the day, we heard some great science from stem cell scholars Gordon Keller, Brigid Hogan, Olivier Pourquie, and Lorenz Studer. There’s reason for hope from these talks for future stem cell therapies for a variety of disorders including Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, lung disease, and Parkinson’s Disease.