Are Stem Cells the Future of Modern Medicine? [Event Recap]

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Written by Lee Ling Yang

CIHR Café Scientifique Presentation

On Thursday, May 31, SCWIST in conjunction with CIHR, hosted another successful Café Scientifique at the Wicklow Pub in scenic False Creek.

Stem cells, unlike most cells in the adult body, are able to divide and differentiate into different cell types. This means that transplanted stem cells have the potential to generate new tissues and therefore replace the damaged ones. The great promises of stem cell therapy beg the question: Are Stem Cells the Future of Modern Medicine? The 50 attendees sipped and snacked as Dr. Jackie Damen and Dr. Fabio Rossi outlined the state of the art of Stem Cell research and its current uses.

Dr. Jackie Damen, a scientific director at STEMCELL Technologies, talked about an assay that can accelerate the drug discovery process. This assay can test for toxicity that may potentially destroy blood cells. It can also identify novel molecules that stimulate blood cell growth. Because it involves growing blood stem cells from humans or animals on a dish, it is convenient to monitor cell growth. It also improves clinically relevant and accurate results while reducing the need for animal testing.

Dr. Fabio Rossi, a professor at UBC and a Canada Research Chair in Regenerative Medicine, excited the audience about the generation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). iPSCs are derived from differentiated mature adult cells. With the manipulation of four genes, they become pluripotent stem cells that have the ability to differentiate into multiple cell types. Compared to the controversial embryonic stem cells-based therapy, transplantation with iPSCs developed from the patient’s own body, may avoid many adverse immunogenic response.

This groundbreaking work as well as many other stem cell therapies in development has proved to be successful in animal models. However, before moving them into clinical settings, they must be rigorously tested. Scientists must understand how stem cells behave after being transplanted into the recipient’s body. If done incorrectly, the cell can grow uncontrollably, resulting in terotoma, a terrible form of tumor. Although years to decades of research need to be done, both speakers were optimistic that stem cell therapy can become the future of modern medicine.

On behalf of SCWIST, we would like to thank our speakers, moderator Dr. Frances Lock and participants for another fantastic event!

A few great quotes from the evening:

“Stem cells are like high school students – lots of potential but they spend lots of the day sleeping”

“Dolly the sheep was derived from mammary glands, and named after Dolly Parton, as she had the most impressive set of glands that the scientists could think of!”

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