Mini-bios on some top finalists for Stem Cell Person of the Year

Heather_MainBy Heather Main

I was a little ashamed of myself that I didn’t know who half of the finalists were in Paul Knoepfler’s Stem Cell Person of the Year Award. I decided to look into it and find out what (or who) I have missed…..Interestingly, 3 of the 7 listed here are not scientists but instead are patients and/or patient advocates, showing the major impact these groups have on progression of our field. I have listed my write-ups of the finalists here alphabetically.

Bill Moss – FSHD sufferer, FSHD global foundation founder and chairman

Bill was diagnosed with FSHD (the most common form of muscular dystrophy) at 28 years old. The youngest child of a gardener, Bill became a masterful businessman and spent 23 years as a senior executive and Executive Director of a pre-eminent Australian investment bank before leaving at 52 years of age to pursue philanthropic initiatives. He has self-funded programs for industry development in Australian aboriginal communities, advocated for disability rights and established the FSHD Global Research Foundation. This foundation funded derivation of the first FSHD affected hESC and successful highthroughput modeling of the disease through development of an efficient protocol to differentiated them to skeletal muscle. 

Jeanne Loring – Academic researcher

Personally I think PluriTest (the bioinformatic test for assessing pluripotent status) alone earns Jeanne a spot in this ‘hall of fame’. Her lab also leads fields including the ‘Frozen Zoo’ (iPSCs from the endangered species), translational projects in arthritis, Alzheimer disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, and addiction as well as creating collections of iPSC lines for disease modeling and ethnically diverse toxicity testing. Jeanne is also recognized for her public work in ethics, legal issues, clinical use, cell generation and clinical use, the legal implications of patents and stem cell tourism. In December she will be awarded the 2015 World Stem Cell Summit ‘Stem Cell Action Award for advocacy’.

Judy Roberson – Huntington’s Disease patient advocate

Judy is a registered nurse, who now works as a full time volunteer patient advocate for Huntington’s disease. This includes supporting the UC Davis Huntington’s Disease Clinic, the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures, and CIRM (California’s Stem Cell Agency), including legislative advocacy. She was appointed as the first voting patient representative to the FDA Huntington’s Disease Advisory Committee and is past president of the northern California chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. Judy advocates for the role patient advocates play in driving stem cell sciences towards making the goals a reality.

Michele de Luca and Graziella Pellegrini – academic researchers/clinicians

Professor De Luca, and his principal collaborator Graziella Pellegrini, have worked together over 20 years, towards the use of human epidermal stem cell cultures for life saving burns treatments as well as treatment of repigmentation and piebaldism. The team has also established human limbal stem cell culture for sight restoring corneal regeneration. Michele De Luca is coordinating the first (successful) gene therapy clinical trial for junctional epidermolysis bullosa and studies the stem cell behaviours of epithelial stem cells. Professor Graziella Pellegrini is based at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine “Stefano Ferrari” at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and one of the principal scientists on the corneal repair system Holoclar ®.  Together they have achieved Europe’s first approved advanced therapy medicinal product (ATMP) to be integrated into health services for patients across Europe in the future. 

Robert Lanza – ‘child science star’, CSO of Ocata Therapeutics

Reading about Robert Lanza is like reading about a rock star. In TIME magazine’s 2014 100 most influential, in FORTUNE magazine and even suggested to be played by Ben Affleck if his work leads to restoring eyesight to millions. Son of a professional gambler and growing up in Boston, Massachusetts, the weirdest find is that at the age of 14 (1969), he partially induced melanin synthesis in chicken to change the colour of its feathers for a science fair project. While it is hard to find the details of this first study, at the age of 19, with the assistance of Stephen Kuffler and Joshua Sanes at Harvard Medical School, Robert published a complete change in pigmentation in Nature using nucleoprotein from the Harco chicken and a standard cross between the Barred Plymouth Rock hen and the Rhode Island Red rooster. Since this early fascination of genetics, Robert developed methods for deriving hESC lines from single blastomeres in an attempt to avert the ethical discussions of the destruction of human embryos and is now running clinical trials for macular degeneration with hESC derived retinal cells.  Robert is currently Chief Scientific Officer at Ocata Therapeutics (formerly Advanced Cell Technology).

Shoukhrat Mitalipov – academic researcher

Shoukhrat was the first to derive hESC through somatic cell nuclear transfer, publishing in Nature 2013. He is also the ‘father’ of 3-parent IVF where by ‘spindle transfer’ the genetic material of a donor oocyte is swapped out for the DNA of a mother who carries a mitochondrial disorder. This creates a new egg with ‘normal mitochondria’ and nuclear genetic information from the mother, which is then fertilised with the sperm of the father. The technique is successful in rhesus macaques but has not yet been tested in humans. Shoukhrat’s company Mitogenome Therapeutics appears to be pursuing 3-parent IVF in China, because it is not currently allowed by the FDA in the US.

Ted Harada – ALS sufferer and unproven stem cell treatment recipient

Another patient advocate, Ted has received two doses of fetal neural cells in his spinal cord from Emory University in Atlanta as an experimental treatment to slow progression of his ALS. While Ted showed improvement in limb movement, strength and dexterity from the first transplantation his abilities have slowly been regressing, leading to this second treatment. Ted is a strong advocate for “Right To Try” that patients’ choice to receive experimental treatments should be respected and will speed up innovation.  He challenges the idea that patients who are out of options may need to settle for ‘silver standards’ with novel FDA approved treatments taking 10 – 15 years and sometimes nearly a billion dollars. He feels that these patients do not have that time to wait. Refreshingly, he is not a fan of stem cell tourism and the Right-To-Try movement stipulates the treatment has to have completed an FDA phase I portion of a trial and been approved for phase II.

Stem cell field in mourning: Paolo Bianco dies at 60

Paolo Bianco

Photo from Corriere Della Sera

Paolo Bianco reportedly has died at age 60. This is terribly sad news and a huge loss for the stem cell community.

Paolo made great contributions both in the science of stem cells itself and also in the area of advocating for responsible science. It is challenging to do both and he did it incredibly well.

Last year he received the ISSCR Community Service Award along with Elena Cattaneo and Michele De Luca for their work in Italy on the very difficult Stamina crisis.

Paolo was a dedicated champion of evidence-based medicine in the stem cell field. For instance, here is a Nature piece he wrote calling for responsible conduct in the stem cell field, entitled, “Don’t market stem-cell products ahead of proof”. I strongly share that vision.

We’ve lost a great force for good in science and policy. My heart goes out to his family and friends.

More to come.

Stem Cell Person of Year Award 2015 Top 12 Finalists

The voters have “spoken” and below is the list of the top 12 vote getters from the larger pool of nominees for Stem Cell Person of the Year in 2015. These are some amazing people.

Look for more information, such as mini-bios, soon on some of the top finalists.

There were nearly 4,700 votes in total.

Now I have the tough task of picking from this dozen just one winner, who will receive the recognition as the top stem cell outside the box innovator of 2015 and of course the $2,000 prize.Stem Cell Person of the Year 2015 Award Nominees


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.

Congrats to Bianco, Cattaneo, & De Luca for 2014 ISSCR Award For Advocating for Evidence-Based Stem Cell Medicine

Paolo BiancoCongratulations to my new friends Paolo Bianco, M.D., of Sapienza University of Rome (pictured at left), Elena Cattaneo, Ph.D., of University of Milan and Michele De Luca, M.D. of University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (photo in the middle of the post), for receiving the 2014 ISSCR Public Service Award.

Drs. Bianco, Cattaneo, and De Luca are all great members of the stem cell community who have worked very hard for evidence-based medicine in Italy. Their efforts particularly resonate to the crisis surrounding the Stamina Foundation, but have had broader positive impact as well.

Michele De LucaISSCR described the award-winning efforts of these three outstanding members of the stem cell community in this way:

Award recipients Bianco, Cattaneo and De Luca were selected for their recent involvement in public debate and policy-making in Italy, championing rigorous scientific and medical standards and stringent regulatory oversight in the introduction of new stem cell treatments into the clinic.

Readers of this blog may recall that Cattaneo was also the recipient of my Stem Cell Person of the Year Award for 2013 so I have to admit that it’s pretty cool that ISSCR was of the same general mindset.

As an update, I recently sent a check for the $1,000 prize that Cattaneo has generously contributed to a science fellowship program. That tells what you what kind of person she is. How awesome.Elena_Cattaneo

I also found it great that ISSCR took somewhat of a pioneering step, compared to past years’ awards, with this year’s public service award by giving it to scientist advocates! Way to go ISSCR! Of course the past recipients of this award are incredible in their own right, but I just think it is outstanding that ISSCR chose to give the award this year to scientists who go the extra mile to make a difference in the wider stem cell community, often requiring great courage and burning the midnight oil as advocates.