2013

17
Dec 2013
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Industry leaders help plot course

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What will it take to transform Canadian scientists’ innovative research experiments into stem cell therapies?

A group of industry representatives, from small biotech firms to large multinational health care corporations, met in Toronto on Dec.…

What will it take to transform Canadian scientists’ innovative research experiments into stem cell therapies?

A group of industry representatives, from small biotech firms to large multinational health care corporations, met in Toronto on Dec. 13th to share their insights into how the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy should address this key challenge.

“The information gathered at this first Industry Forum will be crucial in helping to shape the Strategy and finding ways to overcome obstacles that can block excellent research from becoming new treatments and cures,” said James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

The Foundation, in partnership with the Stem Cell Network, the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, the Ontario Stem Cell Initiative and the Health Charities Coalition of Canada is leading the campaign for a Canadian Stem Cell Strategy.

The Industry Forum is one of several consultation sessions underway as part of the process of developing the Strategy. Previous gatherings have included Canada’s major health charities and leading experts in finance and investment. As well, the country’s top scientists are engaged in ongoing discussions to address how to best marshal Canada’s outstanding talent in stem cell research to come up with cures and treatments for currently incurable and untreatable diseases.

Friday’s Forum was followed by a meeting of key members of an International Working Group. The International Group met to give early insight into what other countries are doing and where Canada can have the greatest impact globally.

Industry Forum Participants

Actium Research Inc. 

David Young, Chief Executive Officer

Canadian Stem Cell Foundation

Alan Bernstein,* Chair, Board of Directors

James Price, President & Chief Executive Officer

Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine

Michael Israels, Chief Operating Officer

Michael May,* Chief Executive Officer

Rahul Sarugaser, Director Business Development

GE Healthcare Life Sciences

Fiona Fitzgerald, National Sales and Marketing Manager

Stephen Minger,* Global Head of Research and Development for Cell Technologies

Insception Biosciences Inc.

Richard Lockie, Chief Executive Officer

Tim Smith, Chief Executive Officer

Proteus Venture Partners

Gregory Bonfiglio,* Founder & Managing Partner

Stem Cell Network

Philip Welford,* Executive Director

Stem Cell Therapeutics

James Parsons, Chief Financial Officer

Tissue Regeneration Therapeutics Inc.

Simon Bubnic, Senior Scientist

University College London

Chris Mason,* Chair, Regenerative Medicine Bioprocessing

* Members of the International Working Group for the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy

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16
Dec 2013
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Jennifer Molson 2 Capture

‘A second chance at life’

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This is the third in a series of blog posts about the success the Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. Harry Atkins is having in treating autoimmune disorders with stem cell bone marrow transplantation.  

This is the third in a series of blog posts about the success the Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. Harry Atkins is having in treating autoimmune disorders with stem cell bone marrow transplantation.  We previously featured Tina Ceroni, a Burlington Ontario athlete whose life was sidelined by a rare disease called Stiff Person Syndrome, and Jelissa Morgan, a patient with a crippling condition called neuromyelitis optica who is about to resume her nursing career. Today we share the story of Jennifer Molson, who has been free of all traces of Multiple Sclerosis for 11 years.

MS symptoms eradicated by stem cell treatment


Jennifer Molson
was working full time and going to school at night in the hope of becoming a police officer. It was 1996 and she was turning 21.  When her left arm started going numb for no apparent reason, it was put down to carpal tunnel syndrome.

When thingsbegan to get worse, doctors considered other possible causes. An MRI confirmed it was Multiple Sclerosis.

Jennifer’s disease came on slowly and tended — as MS does — to wax and wane. Within five years, however, it had taken control of her life.  Training for the police was out.  Full-time employment became part-time work. Eventually she was unable to work at all. Or drive a car. The once unstoppable young woman needed help doing the simplest tasks, such as cutting her food and getting in and out of the shower. “I couldn’t do anything,” Jennifer says now.

She was getting 24-hour care at the Rehab Centre at the Ottawa Hospital, “learning to how to live with my disability.” She could walk only with the help of forearm crutches or a walker. Life in a wheelchair was imminent. Her neurologist, Dr. Mark Freedman, feared that without some kind of an intervention, “she would become very disabled very quickly.”

Intervention came in the form of a stem cell bone marrow transplant to rebuild Jennifer’s immune system where the MS lurked.

For more than a dozen years, Dr. Freedman has partnered with Dr. Harry Atkins, a clinician/researcher, in treating MS patients with stem cell bone marrow transplants. In essence, they take stem cells from an MS patient and purify and fortify them. The patient undergoes extreme chemotherapy to all but annihilate their diseased immune systems. The robust stem cells are then returned to the patient to rebuild a new — hopefully disease-free — immune system.

Tried about 30 times so far, the treatment has shown strong success in stopping the progression of MS.  It has also been successfully used in other autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease, neuromyelitis optic and Stiff Person Syndrome.

In Jennifer’s case, the stem cell transplant did much more than shut down the MS. It eradicated all traces of it. The crutches and walker are long gone. She’s back working full time.  As she described in the book Dreams and Due Diligence:

“I downhill ski, I drive a standard. I can skate. I can dance, but not well … I have no rhythm. That has always been the case. Am I cured? I like to use that word. They (Drs.  Freedman and Atkins) don’t like to use that word. They’re calling it a lasting remission.”

Now free of all traces of MS for more than a decade, Jennifer is an active advocate for stem cell research and development in Canada, the country where stems cells were discovered. She has lent her support to the Campaign for a Canadian Stem Cell Strategy, which is developing a plan for Canada to follow through on its outstanding research legacy to produce more of the kinds of new treatments she has benefitted from.

“I’m very lucky. I got a second chance at life. The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy will allow what happened to me to happen for thousands more Canadians who are dealing with currently incurable diseases.”

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13
Dec 2013
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Hans Messner

Dr Hans. Messner thanks friends, family and colleagues at Thursday's symposium tribute

A giant (in a roomful of stem cell giants) says goodbye

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Maybe you’ve never heard of Hans Messner.

He has never scored a Stanley Cup playoff goal. Never starred in a movie or a television show.…

Maybe you’ve never heard of Hans Messner.

He has never scored a Stanley Cup playoff goal. Never starred in a movie or a television show. He has neither held public office, nor called a press conference to apologize for bad behaviour.

He is, however, directly and indirectly responsible for rescuing thousands of people from leukemia and other blood-borne cancers.

Dr. Messner, who is retiring this month after a 44-year career at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, was a member of Canada’s first stem cell bone marrow transplantation team. For the past several decades, he led the Princess Margaret program that has performed more than 2,200 allogeneic (donor) transplants. The institution he served so well as both a caring doctor (former non-Hodgkin lymphoma patient Chris Taylor calls him “the epitome of hope”) and an internationally respected researcher (almost 200 publications listed on PubMed) honoured him Thursday with a symposium and reception.

More than 100 people — friends, family, colleagues and many young scientists he has inspired — braved bone-chilling weather to crowd into the MaRS Auditorium for the event.

Among them were some of the giants of stem cell research and bone marrow transplantation, then and now. Dr. James Till, who, with his research partner, the late Dr. Ernest McCulloch, first proved the existence of stem cells in the early 1960s, chaired the proceedings. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre’s Dr. Rainer Storb, who worked shoulder to shoulder with Nobel-winner Dr. E. Donnall Thomas in developing bone marrow transplantation, flew in from Seattle. Many originals from the days when Till & McCulloch ruled the Princess Margaret’s former Sherbourne Street research labs (the University of Toronto’s Dr. Norman Iscove and the University of British Columbia’s Dr. Connie Eaves) were there to compare current findings to early work in the field.  Others (Dr. Rick Miller, who devised some of the earliest cell-sorting tools to avoid graft-versus-host disease, and Dr. Allen Eaves, who took what he learned in Toronto and set up the transplantation program in Vancouver) attended simply to honour a man widely regarded as one of the hardest working and good-natured individuals ever to put on a white coat.  Two of Canada’s top cancer researchers — Drs. Tak Mak and John Dick — spent a rare afternoon away from their labs to pay tribute.

Dr. Messner, a German national, was recruited to the Princess Margaret by Dr. McCulloch after the two became acquainted at a conference in Freiburg in 1966.  After completing his MD, he did his PhD under Dr. McCulloch’s mentorship and by 1970 was a key part of the brand new transplant team.

While bone marrow transplantation is now standard care for leukemia, it was highly experimental at the time. In the 1960s, hundreds of attempts at transplantation by teams around the world  ended in failure. The Princess Margaret team scored its first success –a long-term survivor — with a 1972 transplant. The program, led by the persistent and persuasive Dr. Messner, has been extending, enhancing and saving lives ever since.

The store of knowledge that Dr. Messner built at Princess Margaret has been shared with clinicians and researchers across the country. As Dr. Lothar Heubsch explained at the symposium, the transplantation protocols Dr. Messner championed have been adopted and adapted to successfully treat multiple sclerosis patients at his Ottawa General Hospital and are now being used for other autoimmune disorders such as neuromyelitis optica, Stiff Person’s Syndrome and Crohn’s disease. That work is led by Dr. Harry Atkins, a true disciple of Dr. Messner.

“Hans exemplified a personal commitment to care,” Dr. Robert Bell, CEO & President of the University Health Network, told the audience. He described Dr. Messner as “a terrific doctor” and a “translational scientist who has had a huge impact on this country.”

On a personal note, Dr. Messner was an enormous help when I was writing the book Dreams & Due Diligence about Till & McCulloch’s stem cell discovery and legacy. A very busy man (does a life get any busier than treating cancer patients and conducting research?), Dr. Messner took the time to explain Canadian bone marrow transplantation history, drawing attention to one of the first procedures ever performed — in Regina in 1957. He did this even though we had never met and he had no idea who I was. Apparently, such acts of kindness are entirely typical.

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11
Dec 2013
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Finance & Investment experts talk Strategy

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It’s not about the money. It’s about finding cures for currently incurable diseases.

But if money does make the world go round, then it will play an important role in ensuring that the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy succeeds.…

It’s not about the money. It’s about finding cures for currently incurable diseases.

But if money does make the world go round, then it will play an important role in ensuring that the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy succeeds.

That’s why a dozen of Canada’s leading thinkers in finance and investment are gathering in Toronto today. Joining the national dialogue, they will share their suggestions on how to best develop and implement — and finance — a strategy to drive stem cell research toward new therapies and treatments.

Participants at the Finance & Investment Forum for a Canadian Stem Cell Strategy include executives from companies that manage billions of dollars of capital investment in enterprises ranging from commercial and industrial real-estate to cutting-edge life sciences technologies.

These men and women will provide their input into how to capitalize on Canada’s outstanding assets in stem cell research to achieve better health outcomes for Canadians, make health care sustainable and build a Canadian industry around regenerative medicine.

“We are fortunate,” says James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. “We have an amazing array of finance and investment authorities prepared to help us build the Canadian Strategy. This is just the start, but their guidance definitely will help us to align Canada’s resources to deliver new cures and treatments to Canadians.”

The Foundation, in partnership with the Stem Cell Network, the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, the Ontario Stem Cell Initiative and the Health Charities Coalition of Canada is leading the campaign for a Canadian Stem Cell Strategy.  Ideas generated at today’s Forum will help in crafting the Strategy.  Similar ongoing consultations with leading stem cell researchers, national health charity leaders, industry and other stakeholders will also help shape the Strategy.

Participants:

  • James Price, President  & Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Stem Cell Foundation 
  • Christine Williams, Vice-President, Research, Canadian Cancer Society
  • Michael May, Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine
  • Donna Parr, President, Crimson Capital
  • Richard Meadows, Managing Partner, CTI Life Sciences Fund
  • Denis Ho, Founder, ImpactLink Capital
  • Randy Benson, Partner, KPMG 
  • Brian Underdown, Managing Director, Lumira Capital
  • Dan Kanashiro, Vice-President Investments, Orlando Corporation
  • Gregory Bonfiglio, Founder & Managing Partner, Proteus Venture Partners
  • Philip Welford, Executive Director, Stem Cell Network
  • Cédric Bisson, Venture Partner, Teralys Capital 
  • Cynthia Lavoie, General Partner, TVM Capital
  • Stefan Larson, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Versant Ventures
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Dec 2013
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Jelissa Morgan Screen Capture

Jelissa’s story

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We recently featured the story of Tina Ceroni, a Burlington Ontario athlete whose life was sidelined by a rare, insidious disorder called Stiff Person Syndrome.

We recently featured the story of Tina Ceroni, a Burlington Ontario athlete whose life was sidelined by a rare, insidious disorder called Stiff Person Syndrome. Thanks to a stem cell transplant, Tina’s fitness career — and her life — is back on track. To show her gratitude, Tina raised almost $37,000 for the Ottawa Hospital’s Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Transplant Program. When she was presented the cheque to Dr. Harry Atkins on Dec. 4th, Tina met with two other young women whose lives have been rescued by stem cell treatments: Jelissa Morgan and Jennifer Molson. Today we share Jelissa’s story.

From nurse to patient and (soon) back again

When Jelissa Morgan’s neuromyelitis optica flared up again in early 2012, she was devastated.

The rare immunological disorder, similar to Multiple Sclerosis, inflames the optic nerve and the spinal cord. Jelissa was losing her vision — she couldn’t read or watch movies and had trouble identifying who was talking to her. Walking was difficult. She had serious bladder and bowel problems and her skin itched. ‘My body was in pain,” she says, “but didn’t know how to express it.”

That flare-up, the worst of a series the young woman had experienced since finishing high school, transformed Jelissa from hospital nurse to hospital patient.

Until then, her doctors had kept the condition under control with Prednisone, a synthetic corticosteroid that comes with a slew of potential side-effects such as weight gain, sleep difficulties and mood swings. Some patients develop a humped back and a moon face.  Jelissa had all of those symptoms and more.

A switch to a different drug, called Imuran, proved futile: she was on it when the worst flare-up struck.

“They were running out of medication options. My neurologist said, ‘What do you think about a stem cell bone marrow transplant?’ She knew about Dr. Harry Atkins and the work he was doing with MS patients.”

For the past several years, the Ottawa Hospital’s Dr. Atkins, working with neurologist Dr. Mark Freedman, has been treating MS patients with stem cell bone marrow transplants. In essence, he takes stem cells from patients with the most severe cases of the immunological disease and purifies and fortifies them. The patient then undergoes an extreme course of chemotherapy treatments that virtually annihilates their diseased immune system. The robust stem cells are then returned to them to rebuild a new — hopefully disease-free — immune system.

The process has worked well with about 30 MS patients whose disease progression has been stopped. In some cases, symptoms of the disease have diminished significantly and — in at least one case — disappeared entirely.

Dr. Atkins is also using the procedure for people who have other autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease, Stiff Person Syndrome — and neuromyelitis optica.

Jelissa decided to have the experimental stem cell treatment.

“It’s kind of one of those decisions where you don’t want to wait,” she say. “You don’t know when the next flare-up will be. That last flare-up was so bad.  Luckily, I was able to regain a lot of the functions I’d lost. But it’s like rolling the dice. You don’t know what could happen with the next flare-up.”

Jelissa received her stem cell transplant in the fall of 2012. She has been free of neuromyelitis optica symptoms ever since.

“I feel better than I did even before the disease began.  I have much more energy. I’m off all my pills for the immune disorder and the transplant meds. I’m looking forward to getting my life back on track. That includes buying a car, moving out of my parent’s house and traveling.”

She is excited about returning to nursing in the next few months, after receiving a series of vaccinations to replace the ones lost during the chemotherapy treatment.

“From a patient perspective, a transplant is a hard thing to go through. But I survived.  I feel like it’s given me a second chance at life. ”

She strongly supports stem cell research to help more people with diseases like hers.

“Stem cell research opens up so many possibilities.  It’s like opening a door and entering a room and you don’t even know what’s in the room yet. It could mean treatments for so many things.  There is so much hope there.”

Harrys Angels Screen Capture 2

Dr. Harry Atkins with former patients Jelissa Morgan, Jennifer Molson and Tina Ceroni

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09
Dec 2013
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Colorectal cancer advance comes with a challenge

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When Dr. John Dick unveiled his latest cancer discovery last week, he also issued a challenge.

“I think this work will hopefully stimulate (drug) companies to get into the game,” he told the Toronto Star.…

When Dr. John Dick unveiled his latest cancer discovery last week, he also issued a challenge.

“I think this work will hopefully stimulate (drug) companies to get into the game,” he told the Toronto Star.

Dr. Dick, senior scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, led a team of scientists and surgeons that found a way to disarm a gene called BMI-1 that regulates colorectal cancer stem cells.

In his own words: “When we blocked the BMI-1 pathway, the (cancer) stem cells were unable to self-renew, which resulted in long-term and irreversible impairment of tumour growth. In other words, the cancer was permanently shut down.”

Some context:  Dr. Dick was the first person in the world to identify cancer stem cells, the evil twin of the stem cell. Just as stem cells spark the creation of millions of specialized cells to repair and regenerate tissues and organs (while also renewing themselves) throughout a lifetime, cancer stem cells drive the production of millions of tumour cells (while also replicating themselves).

Current cancer therapies — essentially, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation — go after the tumour cells but leave the cancer stem cells unscathed. Which is why, researchers believe, cancer often comes back.

When Dr. Dick discovered the cancer stem cell — first in leukemia in 1994 and then in colon cancer in 2007 — he opened up a new front in the war on the dread disease.  With his latest finding, published in Nature Medicine,  he has provided a schematic diagram for building a major new weapon in that war. One that can be aimed at colorectal cancer, the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the Western world.

The discovery, which made news across Canada, is based on research conducted with mice. The team replicated human colon cancer in the rodents and identified BMI-1, a gene implicated in other cancers, as the pivotal regulator of the cancer stem cells, driving the cycle of self-renewal, proliferation and cell survival. Then they put an existing small-molecule inhibitor to work blocking BMI-1.

While the implications are enormous, there is a huge chasm to be bridged between working with mice and testing a drug  with people. It could take years and many millions of dollars.  But an important start has been made.

What happens now?

“So the next step … is to find the best possible drug to target this gene,” says Dr. Dick in a University Health Network video. “We’re actually testing a number of drugs that are able to target this gene. We’re trying to determine which is the best one and working with other investigators and other companies to try to develop and optimize the drugs so they can be delivered to patients in the best possible way.”

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04
Dec 2013
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Tina Ceroni Capture

Tina Ceroni

Stem cell transplant put athlete’s life back on track

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A few years ago, when Tina Ceroni first noticed the muscle tightness and cramping in her legs, she put it down to too much exercise.  …

A few years ago, when Tina Ceroni first noticed the muscle tightness and cramping in her legs, she put it down to too much exercise.  An accomplished athlete who ran a personal training business in Burlington Ontario, she was used to sore muscles. She never suspected that a rare neurological disorder called Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS) was beginning to take a vise-like grip on her life.

But as the attacks increased in frequency and intensity, constricting her whole body so forcefully that she feared her bones might snap, Tina realized something was seriously wrong. After a couple of misdiagnoses, doctors found she had won the one-in-a-million reverse lottery for SPS, a condition that can only be treated with palliative measures such as sedatives to unbind the ever-tightening muscles.

“I was a ticking time bomb,” says Tina, pictured at left. “Everywhere I went, there was a chance that I could have a life-threatening episode. I tried to keep active, but if I was out on the road cycling and had an attack I didn’t have the ability to use my phone and call someone. I wasn’t able to breathe. So I had to have someone with me all the time.”

Ordinary life stressors, such as loud noises or crowded, noisy rooms, could trigger attacks. So could emotional stresses: her muscles seized up at a friend’s funeral and she had to be taken to hospital.

At her worst, in 2010, she was having five to seven attacks a month, each time requiring paramedics to rush her to the emergency ward where doctors, now familiar with her condition, treated her with propofol, the strong sedative implicated in the death of pop star Michael Jackson.

Tina had to stop working, give up her driver’s licence and stay close to her supportive family. The vivacious, outgoing young woman’s future looked bleak.

Harry Atkins captureBut in remarkable ‘small world’ circumstances, she found a fellow SPS patient who had undergone a successful stem cell transplant treatment at Ottawa General Hospital under the care of Dr. Harry Atkins, stem cell researcher and bone marrow transplant expert.

For more than a decade, Dr. Atkins, pictured at left, has been treating Multiple Sclerosis with stem cell bone marrow transplants. More recently, he has been using the procedure for patients with other autoimmune conditions such as SPS, Crohn’s disease and neuromyelitis optica.

In essence, he collects stem cells from a patient and then purifies and fortifies them. The patient then undergoes an extreme course of chemotherapy treatments to all but annihilate their diseased immune system. The robust stem cells are then returned to them to rebuild a new — hopefully disease-free — immune system.

The treatment has shown remarkable results, stopping the progress of the patients’ autoimmune diseases. In some cases, patients enter into complete remission.

After consulting with Dr. Atkins, Tina underwent the grueling procedure — the chemotherapy leaves patients extremely weak and near death — in April of 2011. Now, approaching three years later, she is symptom-free.  She has resumed her work as a fitness trainer and volunteers at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, where one of her roles is counseling patients who are about to undergo transplant therapy.

“There are no limits; I’m doing everything I love. I can be in big groups and be around all my nieces and nephews, where before it was difficult because the fear of having an attack was a big concern. I can truly say I’m in remission right now.  I feel so thankful.”

With her fear of crowds gone, Tina held an event she called Share a Cell in late October to raise awareness and funds for the Stem Cell and Bone Marrow Transplant (Program at the Ottawa Hospital. More than 200 family, friends and supporters contributed almost $37,000. Today Tina presented Dr. Atkins and his team with a cheque for the amount.

“Before this, I didn’t know much about stem cell transplants,” says Tina. “Now I know how stem cell transplants can change the future. I want to do what I can to raise awareness about stem cell research and what it’s doing for people and how it’s saving lives by affecting all different diseases and conditions.”

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02
Dec 2013
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Keep calm and carry on searching for cures

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A remarkable new Canadian report provides a snapshot of the state of “novel” stem cell clinical trials — those not about bone marrow transplantation for blood-based cancers — around the world.…

A remarkable new Canadian report provides a snapshot of the state of “novel” stem cell clinical trials — those not about bone marrow transplantation for blood-based cancers — around the world.

Published in Regenerative Medicine, The global landscape of stem cell clinical trials goes a long way to separate the hype from the hope around stem cell research and development.

The basic message of what the authors call “the most comprehensive account of the global stem cell clinical trial landscape to date” might be condensed to that recently refreshed British maxim from the Second World War: Keep calm and carry on.

“People have done it in a less systematic way,” says co-author Prof. Tania Bubela of other attempts to capture the global stem cell landscape.  “But they didn’t work out what’s new.”

Prof. Bubela, a lawyer and Associate Professor at University of Alberta School of Public Health, wrote the report with lead author Dr. Matthew D. Li of the Stanford University School of Medicine, and Dr. Harry Atkins, a clinician/researcher at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute who specializes in stem cell transplantation for the treatment of autoimmune diseases.

They looked at every stem cell trial listed in worldwide registries up to Dec. 31, 2012. Of the 4,749 studies, almost 80% involve improving bone marrow transplantation using hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells to treat leukemia and other blood-based cancers — or treating transplant-related conditions.

That work has been going on for five decades, with more than 1 million transplants performed so far. It’s no surprise, then, that so many trials are being carried out in countries with established infrastructure for bone marrow transplantation. It shows that developing clinical capacity and technical infrastructure to process and deliver cell therapies will be crucial to the ongoing development of regenerative medicine.

Setting those trials aside leaves 22% — or 1,058 clinical trials — testing novel therapies for a variety of maladies ranging from kidney conditions (eight clinical trials) to cardiovascular disease (278). It’s on these non-traditional trials that the report focuses.

And the findings are enlightening:

  • In spite of enormous media attention, embryonic stem cells are being used in just a handful of clinical trials worldwide.
  • The use of allogeneic (donated) stem cells “has increased rapidly since 2009” but autologous procedures (using a patient’s own stem cells) still prevail.
  • Asian countries — especially China, but also South Korea, India and Japan — have surpassed the United States and Europe in volume of novel clinical trials.  Trials are also increasing in Australia, Brazil, Iran and Israel.
  • Industry partners are involved at least 25% the time, up significantly since 2004.  This is particularly true in American states such as California, where 50% of all trials involve industry sponsorship or collaboration.
  • Big pharma, however, is still on the fence: worldwide, most of the companies involved in novel trials are small to medium sized.
  • Despite gaps in knowledge about the duration of their survival and impact on surrounding tissues, mesenchymal stem cells (found in bone marrow, umbilical cord blood ,muscle and fat tissue) are being used Phase 2 trials for diabetes, pulmonary hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease because of their “regenerative and reparative” potential.

Prof. Bubela makes the point that not all clinical trials are created equal. Regarding the proliferation of trials in Asia, she cautions that “just because they are listed in a registry doesn’t mean they have proper oversight or regulatory approval.”  Some, she says, may be run by stem cell tourism operations — clinics that entice North Americans and Europeans to travel to their centres for unproven treatments that cost many thousands of dollars.

“You could speculate that they could be using it (the clinical trial) as a recruitment tool or for some form or legitimacy for the work they are doing.“

The report stresses that despite pressure from “patient groups desperate for therapies and cures for currently untreatable conditions” and “industry and policy makers eager to see a return on substantial investments,” moving treatments from clinical trials to clinical practice is going to take some time.

“If you look at the trajectory of any complex biologic (treatment), from R&D through regulatory processes, that just gives you market approval — it doesn’t give you a market,” says Prof. Bubela. “You still need to get clear reimbursement thresholds established.  To get the complicated stuff through, you can be looking at 20-30-year development pipelines.”

The report concludes that “the field is progressing at a steady pace, but the therapeutic rhetoric must be tempered to reflect current clinical and research realities.”

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Nov 2013
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A small clinical trial says big things about Japan

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Japan is moving forward with its plans to fast-track the use of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to treat diseases — and revitalize its economy.…

Japan is moving forward with its plans to fast-track the use of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to treat diseases — and revitalize its economy.

According to the Japan Times, the country last week officially passed a law “to promote safe and swift treatment using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and other stem cells.” The legislation had previously received lower-house parliamentary approval.

As touched upon in an earlier post, Japanese scientists are now conducting world’s first human tests using iPS cells to treat age-related macular degeneration – the leading cause of vision loss in people over 50.

It’s no surprise they are first. Japan’s Dr. Shinya Yamanaka demonstrated how to create human iPs cells six years ago, inducing  adult skin cells to become pluripotent (capable of differentiating into any cell the body needs). These cells function much like human embryonic stem cells but come without any controversy over destroying embryos to create them. The downside to iPS cells is a safety concern that the reprogrammed cells could potentially cause tumours to form. Researchers in Canada and around the world have been working on solutions to that.

Dr. Yamanaka  won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his efforts. Throwing their support behind his work, Japan’s government recently announced it would invest more than $1 billion over the next 10 years in researching and developing iPS cells.

There is much more than national pride at stake, however.  According to Bloomberg News, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sees cellular regeneration as a key element of economic regeneration. His government, the report says, “estimates that stem cells’ potential to rejuvenate worn-out body parts or reverse degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s may yield $380 billion in sales by 2050.”

The macular degeneration trial involves just six patients using iPS cells generated from their own skin. It is a  tiny study by any measure. But it represents a big step in the country’s efforts to develop a stake in that potential mega-billion-dollar market.

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26
Nov 2013
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Steam Capture 2

The Habs, the Leafs, the Spleen Team?

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They called themselves the Spleen Team, a group of young scientists working under the direction of the two men — Drs.

They called themselves the Spleen Team, a group of young scientists working under the direction of the two men — Drs. Jim Till and Ernest ‘Bun’ McCulloch — who first identified the properties of the stem cell in 1961 at the old Ontario Cancer Institute labs on Sherbourne Street in Toronto.

Why spleen?  It was on the spleens of irradiated mice that Till and McCulloch first noticed the bumps or nodules that contained “colonies” of proliferating, blood-forming cells. The Spleen Team’s membership included such health research heroes as Drs. Andy Becker and Alan Wu, who helped prove that the colonies contained millions of cells descended from a single cell — the stem cell — and that it had the power to reproduce itself to keep the process going.

The Spleen Team, whose members did the world’s earliest and most important work on stem cells, particularly hematopoietic stem cells, grew to include people such as Dr. Lou Siminovitch, one of Canada’s early giants in genetics, and Dr. Alan Bernstein, who went on to be the inaugural President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

One of Dr. Till’s graduate students (identity unknown) created a Spleen Team sweatshirt for the captain to wear around the lab.  After retiring his jersey, Dr. Till kept it tucked away in a drawer for the past several decades.

There it remained. Until now.  The framed shirt, pictured here and signed by its owner, now hangs in a suitable place of honour at the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s offices in Ottawa.

Dr. Bernstein has written in the Globe and Mail that if hockey is Canada’s sport, its science is stem cells. We founded the field; we excel at it. Just as The Hockey Sweater, the much-loved Roch Carrier story, tells so much about the importance of a hockey jersey in our country’s culture, the Spleen Team Sweatshirt speaks volumes about Canada’s contribution to health research.

One jersey is part of fiction; one is fact. Both are quintessentially Canadian.

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20
Nov 2013
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Checking in with Jim Till

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Dr. Jim Till, who, with partner Ernest Armstrong McCulloch, first proved the existence of stem cells in the early 1960s, remains a keen observer of the field he co-founded.  

Dr. Jim Till, who, with partner Ernest Armstrong McCulloch, first proved the existence of stem cells in the early 1960s, remains a keen observer of the field he co-founded.  A Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, the 82-year-old Dr. Till maintains an office at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and pays close attention to the latest thinking in cancer stem cells on behalf of the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium. He blogs occasionally and tweets regularly, directing almost 600 followers to research findings he thinks are particularly worthwhile.  He continues to advocate for open access to published research papers — a cause he has championed for more than a decade.  In good health, he curls twice a week. Always up for a challenge, he agreed to take our version of the Proust Questionnaire, the series of questions about  personality that has become popular through modern day adaptations in Vanity Fair magazine and on the CBC Radio Program, The Next Chapter.  It reveals that Dr. Till values honesty, admires Charles Darwin and didn’t think he was bright enough for math. 

What’s your favourite virtue?

Honesty.

Your favourite qualities in a man?

Strength of character.

In a woman? 

Strength of character.

Your chief characteristic?

I think it’s an ability to focus in on something.

What do you appreciate most in your friends?

Loyalty.

What is your main fault?

Acting before thinking.

Your favourite occupation?

Scientist. It’s what I am.

Your idea of happiness?

Being with family.

If you were not yourself, who would you have liked to be?

Charles Darwin. I think he was the most important, most inventive biologist of all time. I could add a physicist: Max Delbrück. He was a theoretical physicist turned biologist.  I dealt with him a few times. Very impressive guy.

Where would you like to live?

I like Canada.

You favourite author?

I have to go back to my childhood when I devoured books. The Sword and the Stone by T.H. White.

Your heroes?

Tommy Douglas. He brought Medicare to Saskatchewan and then to Canada. He was a politician because he wanted to improve things for people. And he did.

What characters in history do you most admire?

They would be scientists like Darwin. Another would be Marie Curie.

What natural talent do you wish you were gifted with?

I would have liked to be brighter. I would have liked to be a mathematician, but I decided I wasn’t bright enough.  You have to be very bright to be a mathematician. You have to think in an unorthodox way. You have to be a lateral thinker. I’m a linear thinker and I go for the focus.

What’s your present state of mind?

Pleased to be still around.

What’s your motto? 

Try to be a decent person.

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Nov 2013
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Canada’s Health Charities share insights on Stem Cell Strategy

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Leaders from 18 national health-based charities are gathering in Toronto today as part of a national dialogue to define a bold vision and strategy for advancing stem cell research toward new therapies and treatments.…

Leaders from 18 national health-based charities are gathering in Toronto today as part of a national dialogue to define a bold vision and strategy for advancing stem cell research toward new therapies and treatments.

Participants at the Health Charities Forum for a Canadian Stem Cell Strategy — whose organizations speak for millions of Canadians dealing with conditions that range from Alzheimer’s disease to spinal cord injury — will consider how to build on Canada’s tremendous strength in stem cell research to achieve better health outcomes for Canadians.

“The idea,” says James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, “is to get Canada’s leading charities in one place and hear what they think should be included in a Canadian Strategy.  Because stem cells have the potential to make an impact on almost every disease, we need the health charities’ input.”

The Foundation, in partnership with the Stem Cell Network, the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, the Ontario Stem Cell Initiative and the Health Charities Coalition of Canada  is leading the campaign for a Canadian Stem Cell Strategy.

“We believe that stem cell science could soon lead to new therapies for a wide range of devastating diseases,” says Deirdre Freiheit, Executive Director of the HCCC, which helped put the Forum together. “That’s why our Coalition supports the dialogue to investigate creating a Canadian strategy that can bring together all the players to make these new treatments and cures a reality.”

Ideas generated at the Forum will help in crafting the White Paper that will form the basis of the Strategy.  Similar ongoing consultations with leading stem cell researchers, business and community leaders, industry and other stakeholders will also help shape the Strategy.

At the Forum, health charities leaders will discuss the outcomes they expect a Canadian Stem Cell Strategy to deliver and the guiding principles they would like to see put in place.  “This is a major first step in the consultation process with the charities,” says the Foundation’s Price. “But it won’t be the last. We are building a critically important dialogue.”

Who’s at the table?

• Alzheimer Society of Canada
• Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
• Canadian Cancer Society
• Canadian Diabetes Association
• Canadian Liver Foundation
• Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada
• Cystic Fibrosis Canada
• Health Charities Coalition of Canada
• Heart and Stroke Foundation
• JDRF Canada
• Kidney Cancer Canada
• Lymphoma Foundation Canada
• Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
• Muscular Dystrophy Canada
• Prostate Cancer Canada
• The Foundation Fighting Blindness – Canada
• The Kidney Foundation of Canada
• The Rick Hansen Institute

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07
Nov 2013
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Banting Postage Stamp

‘It never goes away’

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The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation website describes living with Type 1 Diabetes this way:

“It’s difficult. It’s upsetting. It’s life-threatening. It never goes away.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation website describes living with Type 1 Diabetes this way:

“It’s difficult. It’s upsetting. It’s life-threatening. It never goes away. But, at the same time, people with Type 1 Diabetes serve as an inspiration by facing the disease’s challenges with courage and perseverance and don’t let it stand in the way of achieving their goals.”

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month in Canada.

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, over 9 million Canadians are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes, approximately 10% of whom suffer from Type 1. Of the three subdivisions of this disease (Type 1, Type 2, and gestational), Type 1 diabetes begins in childhood, which is why it’s also known as juvenile diabetes.

Diabetes arises either when the pancreas is unable to produce a glucose-controlling hormone called insulin, or when the body does not use the insulin it produces properly. If untreated, patients are at risk of developing further complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, eye disease, and nerve damage.

It was a Canadian, Dr. Frederick Banting, shown here on a millennial postage stamp, who discovered insulin and, working with Dr. Charles Best, came up with a treatment for the disease that has no doubt saved millions of lives since its development in the early 1920s.

However, there is no cure for diabetes.

Known for their unparalleled capacity to produce hundreds of different types of cells, stem cells likely will play a vital role in research towards finding a cure for diabetes.

Beta cells store and release insulin. Researchers are testing whether stem cells can grow into beta-cell producing factories or as cells that support beta cell repair.  Either way, the goal is to return the body’s insulin to normal levels. This means that, in the future, people with diabetes could be free of dependence on daily insulin injections.

In fact, researchers believe a stem cell therapy for diabetes may be much closer than for other diseases because diabetes is very well understood and can be traced back to the loss of a single cell type. Many groups around the world are working on new stem cell approaches to this disease to transition basic research into clinical trials and applications.  For more information see Toward Treatments.

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08
Oct 2013
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Quietly building a Canadian success story

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How did Dr. Allen Eaves build STEMCELL Technologies into a multimillion-dollar enterprise ($72 million in sales last year) employing 500 people (450 in Vancouver) and selling highest-quality products to the world’s leading scientists (including at least three Nobel Laureates) in 79 countries?…

How did Dr. Allen Eaves build STEMCELL Technologies into a multimillion-dollar enterprise ($72 million in sales last year) employing 500 people (450 in Vancouver) and selling highest-quality products to the world’s leading scientists (including at least three Nobel Laureates) in 79 countries?

Dr. Eaves, a Canadian Stem Cell Foundation Director, did it quietly. With an eye on the big prize: curing cancer.

His amazing success story – Cell Made Man – is featured this week in BCBusiness, expertly written by Anne Casselman.

She tells of how, to bring in more money for research at the Terry Fox Laboratory he founded in 1981, Dr. Eaves began selling culture media for growing blood-forming stem cells to colleagues around the world. By 1993, the media-prep business had outgrown the Terry Fox facilities, so he took out a half-million-dollar mortgage on his house and negotiated a $500,000 loan from the Western Economic Diversification Fund to start STEMCELL Technologies.

Profitable from year one, when it employed eight people and did nearly $1 million in sales, STEMCELL Technologies has grown 20% annually over 20 years. Profits are used to fuel growth and a substantial amount of revenue (about $7 million a year) gets ploughed back into R&D to keep the product line current with a field that is growing – and changing – rapidly. For example, one of the company’s key products is mTeSR™1, a culture medium for human embryonic stem cells and human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Neither type of cells even existed when the company was founded, with iPS cells arriving on the scene just six years ago.

Dr. Eaves, an astute businessman who owns the company outright, is not in it for the money. He has turned down many offers by big multinationals that would have made him a multimillionaire many times over. “It would basically kill the company,” he told BCBusiness. He has a larger goal in mind. “I want to cure cancer. That’s the motivation,” he said. “It’s all about curing some of these diseases, wiping them off the face of the earth.”

The products that STEMCELL Technologies develops, sells and ships around the world “will contribute to doing just that,” Ms. Casselman writes.

And that’s truly refreshing to read about. While it’s always important to focus on the bottom line – businesses can’t survive, can’t employ people and can’tcontribute to the economy if they don’t make money – it’s just as significant to see the big picture.

Dr. Eaves does both. Ever so quietly.

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07
Oct 2013
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Till Capture

Another October, another Nobel oversight

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The news broke Monday that three American scientists – Dr. Thomas Südhof of Stanford, Dr. Randy Schekman of University of California at Berkeley and Dr.

The news broke Monday that three American scientists – Dr. Thomas Südhof of Stanford, Dr. Randy Schekman of University of California at Berkeley and Dr. James Rothman of Yale University have won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

As the San Jose Mercury explained, the three scientists, working separately, figured out how a cell organizes its internal transportation system, controlling the creation and release of important hormones and enzymes. They showed how this cellular cargo is delivered to the right place at the right time. Breakdowns in this trafficking system lead to neurological diseases, diabetes, immunological disorders and ultimately death.

While the three researchers’ amazing discoveries are to be celebrated as Nobel-worthy, the announcement likely is final proof that the selection committee will never right the grievous wrong of not awarding the most prestigious prize to Canada’s Dr. James Till and Dr. Ernest McCulloch who, in the early 1960s, proved the existence of stem cells – a truly paradigm-shifting moment in medical research.

Every October many Canadian medical scientists hope to see this mistake corrected. Every year they are disappointed.

“Bun” McCulloch’s chance to win is gone: he died two years ago and the Nobel is not awarded posthumously. However, his research partner, Jim Till, is alive and well – no doubt due in large part to the fact he is life-long avid curler – in Toronto.

Many thought that the Till oversight would have been corrected in 2012 when Stockholm decided to award the Nobel to Japan’s Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who showed how to create induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells in 2006 (with mice) and 2007 (with humans). However, Dr. Yamanaka’s co-winner last year was the United Kingdom’s Sir John Bertrand Gurdon, for his pioneering work in the late 1950s in nuclear transplantation and cloning. Dr. Till, who could have been the third laureate in a cell-based triple play, was once again left out.

Canada, in fact, has not won a Nobel Prize in Medicine since Sir Frederick Banting captured the prize (with Scotland’s J.J.R. Macleod) in 1923 for discovering insulin. Canadian-born medical researchers who did their work elsewhere have won during that nine-decade Nobel drought, but no native son or daughter who did their groundbreaking work in Canada has made the trip to Sweden for the acceptance ceremony.

We have, of course, won in other categories. For example, the late Dr. Michael Smith, a British-born Canadian, won the Nobel for Chemistry in 1993 for his efforts in developing site-directed mutagenesis. But the Physiology and Medicine prize? Nothing in 90 years.

It is not merely Canadians who, every October, can’t comprehend this oversight. Dr. David Scadden, who co-founded and co-directs the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, has said he can’t fathom why Till and McCulloch were overlooked, noting that, “Till and McCulloch clearly are giants. They clearly paved the way and made this whole field (of stem cells).”

But while it would be enough to give the True North an inferiority complex, the simple truth is many giants in medical research have been overlooked by the Nobel selection committee.  A book due for publication later this year or in early 2014 tells the stories of more than a dozen such titans from around the world who  got the cold shoulder. Pioneers of Medicine Without a Nobel Prize, to be published by Imperial College Press, includes chapters on Sir Archibald E. Garrod, the founding father of biochemical genetics, Sir William Richard Shaboe Doll, who linked smoking and lung cancer, Dr. Albert Sabin, who developed an oral polio vaccine, and heart transplant pioneers Drs. Christiaan Barnard and Norman Shumway. Also featured are Drs. Inge Edler and Hellmuth Hertz, for their development of ultrasound for clinical use, Drs. Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen, who came up with recombinant DNA, and Dr. Akira Endo, who discovered statins.

It will, of course, include a chapter on Till and McCulloch.

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02
Oct 2013
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Cord blood: Now Canada can bank on it

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Bad news, they say, travels fast. But the announcement this week that Canada now has a national public cord blood bank up and running (or, more appropriately, taking its first baby steps) shows that good news is no slowpoke.…

Bad news, they say, travels fast. But the announcement this week that Canada now has a national public cord blood bank up and running (or, more appropriately, taking its first baby steps) shows that good news is no slowpoke.

Mothers delivering at two Ottawa Hospital campuses now have the option of depositing their babies’ umbilical cord blood into the National Public Cord Blood Bank. It can then be withdrawn to save the lives of some of the 1,000 Canadians who, at any given time, need an unrelated stem cell match to treat diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, thalassemia, sickle cell anemia and TaySachs.

Dr. Robert Klaassen, left, a hematologist/oncologist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, explained to CBC News that having a national cord blood bank will shorten wait times and increase the pool of potential matches: “The main problem we have is that many patients, when they need a bone marrow transplant, don’t have a sibling to match to so we have to start looking for unrelated matches.”

Canada, the country where stem cells were discovered, has been slow off the mark with this. Postmedia newspapers pointed out that until this week ours was the only G8 country without a national cord blood bank.

While there currently are three other regional cord blood banks, (Héma-Québec, Alberta and Victoria Angel) and several private operations, Canadian patients needing stem cell transplants often have had to be treated with supplies purchased from other countries – at a cost to the health care system of about $42,000 per unit.

According to Canadian Blood Services (CBS), which manages the national bank, a Made In Canada cord blood unit will be substantially less than half that amount.

CBS will roll out three more collections sites in Brampton, Edmonton and Vancouver by mid-2014 and expects to collect 18,000 donated cord blood units over the next six years. Those cities were selected because of their high birth rates and diverse ethnic populations, which will boost the range of possible matches.

As Sue Smith, CBS Executive Director of Stem Cells, told CTV News, “It’s very easy; any woman over the age of 18, as long as they have had a healthy birth and it’s beyond 34 weeks gestation, [can donate].”

The National Cord Blood Bank is a $48-million enterprise with provincial and territorial ministries of health (except Québec) investing the lion’s share while CBS leads a $12.5-million fundraising campaign for the rest. As of this week they have raised more than half that amount.

So, more lives will be saved and significant cost savings realized. If that’s not good news, what is?

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30
Sep 2013
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Pink Ribbon

Thinking Pink in October

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October 1 has marked the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month for almost 30 years. Each year, cancer survivors, their friends and loved ones wear the iconic pink ribbon and take part in fundraising events to raise awareness and help find a cure.…

October 1 has marked the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month for almost 30 years. Each year, cancer survivors, their friends and loved ones wear the iconic pink ribbon and take part in fundraising events to raise awareness and help find a cure.

This disease will directly affect one in nine Canadian women, according to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

Although there’s no one known cause, researchers believe that inherited and/or environmental factors must be present for breast cancer to develop.

A new film about Canadian Annie Parker, who survived breast cancer, ovarian cancer and a tumour behind her liver, dramatizes her tireless efforts to encourage researchers to examine a genetic link to breast cancer. Decoding Annie Parker, highlighted in the Globe & Mail this week, stars Oscar winner Helen Hunt as U.S. geneticist Dr. Mary-Claire King, who identified the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.

While we can’t change the genetic characteristics we inherited from our parents, we can alter the environmental factors such as physical activity, alcohol/drug consumption, diet, and exposure to harmful chemicals.

Cancer originates from cell mutation, which occurs when a cell’s DNA has been damaged. Instead of repairing itself or dying off, it lives on and produces more cancer cells.

Many scientists believe cancer cells are propagated by a small subset of cells with stem cell properties – and that these cancer stem cells must be eliminated to cure the disease.  This thinking is based on a 1994 Canadian discovery that a small number of tumour-initiating cells could generate leukemia in mice. Researchers are now working to identify and isolate these cancer stem cells to detect breast cancer earlier, predict its prognosis, and provide drug therapy targets.

While there is currently no Health Canada or FDA approved stem cell therapy for breast cancer, research has progressed to clinical trials. Many of these studies involve using new methods to monitor the cells and DNA present in patients by assessing tissue samples before surgery, at the time of removing the cancer, and for many years afterwards. Other studies are testing whether cancer stem cell biomarkers can be used to predict responses to therapies for early stage breast cancers. Click here for more information about stem cells research and efforts to cure breast cancer.

 

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27
Sep 2013
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Stem Cell Animation 2

Take a minute to understand stem cells

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If you have struggled to understand what stem cells are all about, take comfort: you are not alone. I wrote the book on them and I can still stumble over concepts like self-renewal and differentiation and plasticity.…

If you have struggled to understand what stem cells are all about, take comfort: you are not alone. I wrote the book on them and I can still stumble over concepts like self-renewal and differentiation and plasticity.

Fortunately there is now an excellent resource to help those of us with less than keen scientific minds to quickly get the picture – quite literally.

Ben Paylor, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia, and Dr. Mike Long, a post-doctoral fellow have produced StemCellShorts, three short animated videos that manage to explain tricky science concepts clearly without dumbing things down.

The series is being released this fall, with the “world screening premiere” during the Till & McCulloch Meetings (the annual gathering of Canada’s best and brightest stem cell scientists) in Banff Oct. 23-25. But you can  view the first in the series here. It answers the question, What is a stem cell?

Dr. James Till narrates the minute-long, action-packed piece and is the perfect person to do it.  In the early 1960s, he and his research partner Dr. Ernest McCulloch set out the core principles of stem cell science.

The other two videos in Phase 1 of the project include  ‘What is an embryonic stem cell?’ narrated by Dr. Janet Rossant, Chief of Research at SickKids Hospital, and ‘What is an induced pluripotent stem cell?’ voiced by Dr. Mick Bhatia, Director of the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute.

Production was funded through a Public Outreach Award provided by our sister organization, the Stem Cell Network. The Foundation is partnering with the Network on Phase 2, which will see five more animated shorts that should be ready by the spring.

In the meantime, enjoy the first instalment. A minute later, you’ll feel scientifically smarter.

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26
Sep 2013
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L. Jacques Menard

Outstanding Quebec business leader joins Foundation Board

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If an organization, like an individual, is known by the company it keeps, then the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation is further solidifying its reputation for sterling leadership.…

If an organization, like an individual, is known by the company it keeps, then the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation is further solidifying its reputation for sterling leadership.

The Foundation’s Board of Directors, which already includes some of Canada’s leading figures in business, medical science and public policy, has been further bolstered by the addition of L. Jacques Ménard, the Chairman of BMO Nesbitt Burns and President of BMO Financial Group, Quebec, to its ranks.

Not just one of Canada’s great financial leaders, Mr. Ménard, has made important impacts on his community, province and country.  He was recognized as a Great Montrealer in 2009 by the city’s Board of Trade, named Officer of the Order of Québec in 2010, and, in 2012, was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada – the highest civic honour a Canadian can achieve.

Mr. Ménard is a director of WestJet, Claridge Inc., Stingray Digital, and Léger Marketing. He also serves as a director for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Montreal Alouettes, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the Trudeau Foundation, the Gairdner Foundation, the Macdonald Stewart Foundation, the Mobilys Foundation and the Junior Achievement Canada Foundation.

As Chancellor of Concordia University, Mr. Menard is clearly a firm believer in the importance of education in creating better lives and a stronger society. He  has championed the cause of student retention and success by authoring books on the subject and establishing the Groupe d’action sur la persévérance et la réussite scolaires. Mr. Menard is also Chair of Youth Fusion, an award-winning, non-partisan charity that establishes innovative partnerships between high schools and universities.

A member of the Task Force on Competitiveness, Productivity and Economic Progress of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, Mr. Ménard is a past Chair of Hydro-Québec, the Investment Dealers Association of Canada and the Task Force on the Sustainability of the Québec Health Care and Social Services System.

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26
Sep 2013
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StewartGarrows400EN

Will enhanced stem cells mend broken hearts?

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The unveiling of a clinical trial to test the use of genetically enhanced stem cells to rebuild badly damaged hearts captured major media attention in early September.…

The unveiling of a clinical trial to test the use of genetically enhanced stem cells to rebuild badly damaged hearts captured major media attention in early September.

CBC News, the Sun and Postmedia newspapers all called the trial “groundbreaking” and gave it prominent play. CTV  called it a “world-first clinical trial.” The Globe and Mail  coverage was somewhat more restrained but went into fine detail to explain how the patient’s own blood stem cells are enhanced with a gene called endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) that is then infused into the heart at the site of the damage.

It didn’t hurt that the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, where Principal Investigator Dr. Duncan Stewart is CEO and Scientific Director, was able to put a gentle human face on complicated science by presenting Patient No. 1. Sixty-eight-year-old Harriet Garrow of Cornwall, Ontario suffered a major, heart-stopping myocardial infarction in July.  Holding hands with her husband Peter Garrow, she was amiable, articulate and authentic.  Reporting the news Sept. 10, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network  highlighted her heritage, headlining its story “Mohawk woman in centre of ground breaking medical treatment.”

This is a double-blind study – meaning neither the investigators nor the 100 participants in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto will know who received the souped-up stem cells or the comparative controls of ordinary stem cells or placebos until after the results are in. That doesn’t matter to Mrs. Garrow, who, at the very least, is getting the best of current cardiac care. “I am thrilled to play a part in this research that could help people like me in the future and, who knows, perhaps even my children and grandchildren,” she said in the OHRI’s media release.

A decade of work

Investigators will start analyzing the results after Patient No. 100 has been enrolled and treated – more than two years from now. By that time, Dr. Stewart will have put 10 years into the project he originally started at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

But things could happen quickly after that.

“Most major medical centres in Canada and the United States have the capacity to do this kind of cell manufacturing, “ says Dr. Stewart. “So, if we allow ourselves to dream a bit, that this really is a very positive trial with major improvements, I think it could be adopted quite quickly.”

The implications – in terms of thousands of lives that could be saved and millions of dollars in health care costs avoided – are immense. About 70,000 Canadians have heart attacks every year. Dr. Stewart estimates that about one-third of those, around 23,000, suffer damage severe enough to require this level of intervention.

“This segment of the infarct population is one that’s going to cost an awful lot of money because before they die they are going to develop heart failure. They’re going to be having multiple prolonged hospital admissions and require implantation of defibrillators and are going to have all kinds of other treatments that cost the system a lot of money.”

Other trials using ordinary stem cells have shown some positive effect on repairing heart tissue, but nothing that would spark widespread change in how heart attack patients are treated. The difference here is these stem cells have rejuvenated with eNOS to do a more effective repair job.

“It’s always been our view that getting the most robust therapy requires some manipulation of the cells, particularly when you’re using the patient’s own cells,” says Dr. Stewart. “The cells are the same age as the patient, which is usually 60 or 70 years old, and they have been exposed to the same factors that produced heart disease in the first place. We know they don’t work well. But if we can recover the activity of these cells we’re going to get more benefit.”

It all depends, of course, on The Big If: If it works.

Given the rigorous controls and criteria included in the clinical trial,  the answer should be obvious within three years.

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25
Sep 2013
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Stem cells save lives of children with cancer

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As September draws to a close, it’s important to remember that the back-to-school month has been designated Childhood Cancer Awareness since 1987.…

As September draws to a close, it’s important to remember that the back-to-school month has been designated Childhood Cancer Awareness since 1987.

According to Childhood Cancer Canada, 15,000 Canadian kids are diagnosed with cancer each year. This disease is responsible for more deaths in children than asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and AIDS combined.

Cancer develops as a result of disruptions in cell division and growth. Instead of dying off like normal cells, cancer cells live on and produce more cancer cells. Though the exact cause of this cellular mutation is unclear, contributing factors to this disease may be hereditary and/or environmental.

Because radiation treatment would damage young cancer patients’ still-developing brains, transplanting hematopoietic – or blood-forming – stem cells following chemotherapy is now a standard practice and can increase survival rates for those with brain, bone, and immune cell tumours.

The process involves harvesting hematopoietic stem cells from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood to transplant and resupply blood cells. The procedure has led to successful cures for potentially lethal forms of leukemia.

Research teams are focused on developing new methods for applying hematopoietic stem cells to treat different types of cancers – more specifically for solid tumour cancers. For more information on the research that’s underway, click here.

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23
Sep 2013
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Norman Iscove

Quietly opening up a new frontier to fight cancer

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Just a few weeks ago, when most of us were focused on soaking up the last rays of summer sun, a new development in how stem cells renew themselves didn’t see much light of day, media-wise.…

Just a few weeks ago, when most of us were focused on soaking up the last rays of summer sun, a new development in how stem cells renew themselves didn’t see much light of day, media-wise. It should have.

Dr. Norman Iscove, a senior scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre whose pedigree traces back to pioneering bone marrow transplant efforts led by Dr. Ernest McCulloch in 1970, has quietly opened up a new frontier. One that has huge implications for cancer.

After years of work, the lion’s share of which was done by postdoctoral fellow Dr. Catherine Frelin, Dr. Iscove’s team was able to show that a gene called GATA3 plays a key role in the rate at which blood stem cells renew themselves.  They found that by tinkering with it they could get stem cells to up their self-renewal rate and make many more stem cells.

In a practical sense, this discovery could help address the shortage of stem cells for transplantation. If, by interfering with GATA3, scientists could ramp up stem cell production, doctors could then do more bone marrow transplants and save more lives.

That kind of application, however, is likely a long way off. The GATA3 findings, published in Nature Immunology, are based on work with mice – not people. “I can’t even begin to predict it,” says Dr. Iscove.  “Before knowing whether it’s playing the same role in human stem cell self-renewal, it’s too soon to say.”

But there is something more fundamental to consider here. Something that has much larger implications down the road.

“We know that stem cells can be preprogrammed in terms of longevity,” says Dr. Iscove. “There are stem cells we can purify completely that will reconstitute almost permanently. But there are others that sometime after eight weeks will begin to fail and the grafts will regress. Both of them are genuine stem cells. Both of them are capable of pumping out billions of cells every day. But one is preprogrammed to quit.  We now think that GATA3 is a key player in reprogramming the permanent stem cell to become a transient stem cell.”

Dr. Iscove believes that understanding the differences between permanent and transient stem cells is absolutely central to understanding how cancer develops.

“Cancer cells have permanence in terms of growth,” he says. “They don’t quit. They keep going. That’s why they’re dangerous.”

Viewed this way, the potential application of the GATA3 discovery is far beyond simply improving the ability to scale up the production of progenitor cells. It could be the key to shutting down cancer stem cells.

“It’s part of the puzzle of understanding permanence in stem cell renewal,” says Dr. Iscove. “How is that done and how do you break it?” The answer won’t be found anytime soon.

As said, Dr. Iscove has opened up a frontier. He and others must now explore it.

That, at the very least, is exciting.

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06
Sep 2013
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Scientists focus on curing blindness

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Want to see the future of stem cell science?  Look in the mirror.

See the retina – the thin black line outside the iris?…

Want to see the future of stem cell science?  Look in the mirror.

See the retina – the thin black line outside the iris? Those are retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells.  And that’s where the stem cell revolution in new treatments likely will begin.

Outstanding advances in treating leukemia, multiple myeloma and other blood-borne cancers notwithstanding, stem cells have yet to deliver the kind of treatments and cures many had hoped would be available by now. That is soon to change. Not in the blink of an eye, but certainly over the next few years.

“I think that blindness is going to be the first disease cured using pluripotent cells,” says Dr. Derek van der Kooy of the University of Toronto.

Dr. van der Kooy, whose team discovered retinal stem cells 13 years ago, bases his prediction on the fact that the retina is an easy target.

“It’s well laminated and there is this fantastic sub retinal space where you can inject the cells perfectly, exactly where they are supposed to go,” says Dr. van der Kooy. “You can actually see what you’re doing – you can look in the eye and see where you’re injecting the cells. With the heart or the brain, you can’t see where they (the stem-cell-derived transplant cells) are going. Also, it’s an incredibly sensitive assay to see whether they work or not: you can see whether vision improves.”

Dr. van der Kooy’s comments come in the wake of Japan’s announcement that it has approved the world’s first human tests using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. They will be used to produce RPE cells to treat age-related macular degeneration.

Japan’s Dr. Shinya Yamanaka first demonstrated how to create iPs cells in 2006 (in mice) and 2007 (in humans).  Essentially, he came up with a process to take adult skin cells and induce them into becoming pluripotent (capable of differentiating into any cell the body needs) much like human embryonic stem cells. It was an amazing feat for which he won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The discovery of iPS cells created a whole new source of pluripotent stem cells and, perhaps more significantly, got around ethical concerns about destroying embryos left over from in vitro fertilization to create embryonic stem cell lines.

But there was a problem. Dr. Yamanaka‘s original method used viruses in the reprogramming process, creating a risk of causing mutations and triggering disease.  Other researchers, notably Dr. Andras Nagy at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, have since devised other, non-viral ways of creating the cells to avoid that risk.

Japan invests $1 billion in iPS cells

Clearly, Japan thinks any risk is now negligible. The Wall Street Journal reported in late June that Japan has committed more than $1 billion over the next 10 years to advance iPS cell research and develop clinical applications. The age-related macular degeneration trial – involving just six patients – represents, the WSJ reports, “a big step forward [for Japan] in the race to develop stem-cell therapies.”

Dr. van der Kooy, however, points out that an American company, Advanced Cell Technologies, is already conducting clinical trials to test the safety of RPE cells derived from embryonic stem cells as a therapy for age-related macular degeneration and Stargardt disease (a juvenile form of the condition).

“It is the very first time that people have used iPS cells to try to treat a disease in humans, but conceptually it’s not that different than the ACT trial going on in the States right now,” says Dr van der Kooy. “And there are two other embryonic-stem-cell-derived trials that are going to start: another one in California and one in England. All four will be essentially the same type of trial – attempts to make RPE cells from pluripotent human cells for either macular degeneration or Stargardt’s.”

There is also a potentially crucial Canadian connection to this story.  Dr. Molly Shoichet, a bioengineer and colleague of Dr. van der Kooy at the University of Toronto, has developed a stem cell delivery system that uses a minimally invasive and biodegradable gel called HAMC (pronounced “hammock”) to deliver the progenitor cells to the retina.

“We’ve seen a pro-survival effect in the lab tests and in animal models,” says Dr. Shoichet. “The cells survive better when we deliver them with the gel and they integrate better in the retina.”

So the race is on to cure blindness caused by macular degeneration using with iPS cells and embryonic stem cells. “When you think about it, it’s the general argument for stem cell biology,” says Dr. van der Kooy. “Once cells have degenerated, the only way you’re going to improve them is replace the cells you’re missing.”

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07
Aug 2013
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Snipped Slamon and Mak

Not an easy job, but the demand is there

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Welcome to the first instalment of the Stem Cell NewsDesk, the Foundation’s attempt to help Canadians better understand where a “breakthrough” fits on the research lab-to-clinic continuum.…

Welcome to the first instalment of the Stem Cell NewsDesk, the Foundation’s attempt to help Canadians better understand where a “breakthrough” fits on the research lab-to-clinic continuum.

Essentially, the aim of NewsDesk is to try to answer one question: how does [insert news-making development/discovery/breakthrough here] contribute to finding a treatment or a cure for a currently untreatable or incurable disease?  The idea is not to hype stem cell science but to provide realistic reports on developments as they occur.

It won’t be easy. Stem cell science is complicated and it can be hard to decipher whether a discovery represents a monumental leap forward or is just an incremental improvement in understanding how stem cells function. Sometimes it is obvious, as with Dr. Shinya Yamanaka’s 2006 Nobel-winning discovery of how to make embryonic-like stem cells from almost any cell in the body – cells we now call induced pluripotent stem cells. Sometimes it’s not. Remember that the first demonstration of the unique properties of stem cells 50 years ago flew in under the radar.

In email correspondence, Dr. Connie Eaves, a Vancouver-based researcher whose team was the first to isolate breast stem cells, shared her thoughts on why this is such a challenge:

  • Every ‘new’ piece of information about how cells work and how their behaviour can be predictably manipulated is potentially a breakthrough – but it may take years to understand whether/when/where/or for what that will be true. So, making a fast judgment is rarely possible.
  • Current efforts use unknowns (new molecules with an experimental rationale) to treat unknowns (human tumours we don’t understand).
  • Clinically, an improvement of long-term survival from 5% to 15% would be considered a big advance. But if you were an affected patient, you might not see it that way, as overall your survival chances would still be pretty bad.
  •  What is useful clinically requires a controlled trial and this usually takes a long time (10 years) and the result may appear sort of boring by the time the answers are all in.

Case in point: the ‘sharpshooter’ story

Dr. Eaves is part of the 100-person team led by Princess Margaret Cancer Centre’s Dr. Tak Mak and Dr. Denis Slamon, (pictured at right) of the University of California, Los Angeles that made headlines in mid-June by announcing they had developed a new kind of “sharpshooter” anti-cancer drug.  Given the excellent track record of the two scientists – Dr. Mak revolutionized how scientists think about the human immune system by cloning the T-Cell receptor and Dr. Slamon developed the breast cancer drug Herceptin – it’s not surprising the announcement garnered major media attention.

As the Toronto Star explained, the new drug, which has been tested on mice for ovarian, breast, pancreas, lung and colon cancer is called a sharpshooter because it goes after a specific enzyme to shut down cancer.  Unlike chemotherapy, which can kill healthy, quick-replicating cells, the drug, called CFI-400945, takes aim only at the cancer cells.

On CTV’s Canada AM, host Bev Thompson described it as “being hailed as a major breakthrough in cancer research” and said while “we’ve talked about breakthroughs before … this seems like a cut above.”

In the Globe and Mail, however, Canada’s leading health writer André Picard, pointed out that CFI-400945, has “not been tested on a single person” and that “even in a best-case scenario” a new cancer drug “is at least a decade away.”

As excited as they were, the Princess Margaret researchers also urged patience. On that Canada AM segment, Dr. Philippe Bedard explained that the three-phase clinical trial process is a marathon, not a sprint, stressing that there is a long road ahead and it “can take many years.”

So where does that leave cancer patients?

Officials at Princess Margaret say there has been lots of interest from people who want the new drug. That will take some time: Health Canada approved CFI-400945 for use in human trials in mid-July. Next, it goes before the University Health Network’s Research Ethics Board for approval. A trial involving a small number of patients to see if CFI-400945 is safe – likely will begin in November.

So why did Princess Margaret bang the drum so loudly at such an early stage? The sharpshooter announcement actually came from The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation to make donors aware of the potential advances that are critically dependent on the funding support that their donations provide. Makes sense:  Canadians support medical research through their charitable donations as well as through their taxes and want to know how their investments are doing.

No quick fixes

But the reaction shows that there is a real and growing need for a resource to help people understand how a treatment may have an impact on them. As stem cell research moves closer to providing new treatments, people will want to know more.

NewsDesk hopes to help in this. Again, not an easy task. And there will be lots of cautions and caveats attached to our discussions of breakthroughs.  Because the reality is: there are no quick fixes or magic bullets. But progress is being made – almost every day.

So let’s go back to Dr. Eaves, who is a member of the Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, and her thoughts on the sharpshooter announcement:

“The Tak Mak result looks very exciting in the experimental models studied to date. But there is not much history yet to know how these will correlate with patient outcomes. I can’t say much more than that and don’t think anyone can at this early stage.”

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20
Jun 2013
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Help Us Help Stem Cells Help You

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When we set about revamping our website here at the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, we realized that a subject as exciting and loaded with potential as stem cells ought to have a website that captured that sense of excitement and explored that potential.…

When we set about revamping our website here at the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, we realized that a subject as exciting and loaded with potential as stem cells ought to have a website that captured that sense of excitement and explored that potential.

Not that our previous version didn’t. Our original site was innovative enough to win a Webby Award – the online equivalent to an Oscar – in 2010. But it was created in our early days and, just like the field of stem cell science, we have moved ahead, taking on bold new challenges our old site could no longer encompass.

The first step was to simplify the message. As the national voice and champion, our essential role is to unite scientists, business and community leaders behind accelerating the process of turning stem cell research into clinical applications to treat or cure currently untreatable and incurable diseases. We were able to distil that role into the seven words trumpeted on our home page: Help Us Help Stem Cells Help You.

Everything found on the new site fans out from there. The Toward Treatments section, for example, is there to explain – in language everyone can understand – how far along stem cell research is in addressing diseases that have perplexed medical science for centuries. The idea is to provide a resource where patients, their families and friends can go to get the straight goods on whether there is a stem cell treatment available or where a potential  treatment is in the research-to-clinic pipeline.

‘Watch this space’

Currently, we have 14 diseases/conditions covered, ranging from ALS to Wound Healing. We hope to have a total of 18 prepared by year’s end. Which speaks to the evolving nature of our website. It is a work in progress. For example, our Stem Cell NewsDesk is in “watch this space” mode.  The idea with the NewsDesk is to provide regular updates on progress in stem cell research, assess the importance of advances that the mainstream media are highlighting and shine a light on work that may be going unnoticed.  It will be the go-to place for fair and balanced reportage of the progress that stem cell science is making. We plan to test run it over the summer and have it operational for the fall.

As for the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy, it represents the Foundation’s number one priority for the next two years.  Canada needs a properly funded, publicly supported research and development strategy to stay at the forefront of this exciting field of medical research and to move further, faster toward the types of treatments everyone is hoping for.  We are in the formative stages of creating the Strategy, but Canadians will be hearing a lot more about it over the coming months.

New features, old favourites

One of the new features on the site is our powerful Legacy Video that outlines Canada’s role in founding and developing stem cell science. Watching it, you can’t help but be impressed by Canada’s remarkable contributions to founding and developing this exciting and important field of research, and to fully appreciate the notion that, ‘If hockey is Canada’s game, its science is stem cells.”

For those who enjoyed the old website, do not despair. We have maintained its most-visited and best-loved elements.  The Rock Star Scientists Video that features several of Canada’s leading scientists talking about their work continues to inspire. We encourage you to visit the Stem Cell Charter page and, if you haven’t already, add your name to the thousands of Canadians who believe in the therapeutic potential of stem cells and who have committed to becoming more informed about and engaged in advancing stem cell science.

We built this site to evolve and move forward as the science we champion evolves and moves forward. To explore the potential. Now, that’s exciting.

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04
Jun 2013
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Moving forward, in a big way

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The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation is on the move – in more ways than one.

After two years of operating out of the Stem Cell Network offices at the Ottawa Hospital, the Foundation is now in new quarters at 6 Gurdwara Road in South Ottawa and a satellite office on Spadina Road in the heart of Toronto.…

The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation is on the move – in more ways than one.

After two years of operating out of the Stem Cell Network offices at the Ottawa Hospital, the Foundation is now in new quarters at 6 Gurdwara Road in South Ottawa and a satellite office on Spadina Road in the heart of Toronto.

New project

The new space is necessary to accommodate exciting new projects the Foundation is rolling out First up is a completely redesigned website with a bold theme: Help Us, Help Stem Cells Help You. Its centrepiece attraction is Toward Treatments – patient-focused summaries of what stem cell researchers are doing in the battle against 14 currently incurable diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.  Prepared in partnership with the Stem Cell Network, each summary is as authoritative as it is accessible, written in reader-friendly language that makes complicated science easily comprehensible.

Stem Cell NewsDesk

We expect to have the site up and running in the summer and will be adding to it as we build for a major fall launch when another much-needed feature will be ready to go: Stem Cell NewsDesk will provide timely and realistic assessments of advances in research that the mainstream media are highlighting, and shine a light on important work that may be going overlooked.

The idea is to give Canadians a clear understanding of the difference between an incremental advance and a major accomplishment. We anticipate the NewDesk will be the go-to place for fair and balanced reportage of the progress stem cells science is making. Watch for it this fall.

A Canadian Strategy

But that is just a starting point.

The Foundation’s major undertaking over the next two years will be the crafting and implementation of the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy to guide the progress of research and development over the next 15 to 20 years. Wheels are already turning. The Foundation’s formidable Science Leadership Council is the framework for the strategy.  We are now recruiting some of the world’s leading thinkers in stem cell science and its application to join a blue-ribbon panel of international experts to provide the global context required to shape the strategy.  And we have begun consulting with Canada’s entrepreneurial and philanthropic leaders to get their input— and commitment – to help move the science safely and quickly forward.

The potential of stem cell science to treat diseases and ease suffering is immense.  We believe stem cell science is now at a tipping point – a time when potential solutions are on the verge of becoming real ones. The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation is moving forward to help make that happen.

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03
Apr 2013
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Yes You Can

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Canada has earned its position globally as a stem cell leader. Canadians made the original discovery of stem cells and have made many of the most important breakthroughs.…

Canada has earned its position globally as a stem cell leader. Canadians made the original discovery of stem cells and have made many of the most important breakthroughs. Our scientists are world-renowned and have trained successive generations of researchers who continue to increase our depth of knowledge in the field.

Larger, Broader Support

Recent years have seen stronger support continue to emerge from Canadians. Last year, the Renew the World Gala celebrated the 50th anniversary of the discovery of stem cells by Canadian researcher Drs. Till & McCulloch.

The gala was attended by 500 influential Canadians from all across the country who showed their commitment to the healing potential of stem cell science. The public declaration of support showed by these celebrities, business leaders and philanthropists has helped to set a new tone and momentum that is growing across Canada.

New Leaders

Today, new leaders are taking up the cause of stem cell science as their own. They recognize the impact that stem cell research can have on the health of Canadians, on our health care system, and on our economy. Our Board of Directors has continued to grow and their guidance, experience, and credibility are bringing greater attention and support to the stem cell cause.

This is For Everyone

Each of us can take small actions to help realize the full potential of stem cell science. Already, we are seeing that potential emerge. Jennifer Molson’s recovery from MS is a moving case in point. These changes are already in motion, but they don’t happen by themselves; they require support from all of us.

Sign the Charter

The first thing you can do is to make a clear statement of support for stem cell science. You can sign the International Stem Cell Charter to make that support public. Better yet, you can share it with others after you’ve made your declaration. Just follow the link HERE to get started.

Learn More

It’s important for each of us to continue to learn more about stem cell science. Not only is the field moving quickly, but it’s also essential that we take a grounded, measured approach over the long-term in order to achieve the outcomes we all hope for. We don’t all have to become scientists, but it’s possible for each of us to learn the fundamentals about stem cells and to share what we learn with others.

A great place to start is the book that we commissioned that tells the story of the discovery of stem cells. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the characters and moments that have defined our past and will shape our future.

Support the Foundation

Together we can shape Canada’s stem cell future. We have a strong foundation on which to build—a foundation we can be proud of. We have scientific leaders working in world-class research laboratories. We have leaders willing to lend their influence and work together to provide direction and to help achieve the healing potential that stem cell science offers.

What we need is you. We need your support. We need your voice. As you sign the Charter and continue to learn more about stem cell science, consider how you can support the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

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15
Mar 2013
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Facing the Facts

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Most discussions about stem cells focus on their promise and potential—about what could happen. And rightly so. There’s still so much to accomplish.…

Most discussions about stem cells focus on their promise and potential—about what could happen. And rightly so. There’s still so much to accomplish. But it’s also important for us to take an honest look at where we’ve been and then look at what impact stem cell science can have.

A Canadian Legacy

Stem cells represent one of the most significant developments in modern medical science  They were discovered by Canadians researchers Drs. James Till & Ernest McCulloch in Toronto just over 50 years ago.

Their work was not only recognized with a Lasker Award—often considered the North American equivalent of the Nobel Prize—but their discovery caught the attention of generations of Canadians scientists who have taken it further.

Today, Canada’s researchers are globally recognized leaders. In a review published in Nature Immunology in 2002, almost half of the 35 most significant stem cell papers published in the last half of the 20th century were authored by Canadians. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about neural stem cells, retinal stem cells, skin stem cells, cancer stem cells or others, you’re going to be talking about Canadians. We’re also internationally respected for our expertise in the ethical, legal and social issues that arise from stem cell science.

Transforming Health—Transforming Health Care

The potential of stem cell science to help those who are living with disease and other serious medical conditions is clear. With stories such as those of Jennifer Molson, we know what’s possible and we can see some early successes.

When we think about the impact of stem cells on our health care system, the potential is no less important. For example, there are about 1,500 spinal cord injuries in Canada every year. The direct costs of treatment are approximately $500,000 per case. If stem cell science can help to repair spinal nerve cells, we could potentially save as about  $800 million. Treat diabetes: $3.5 billion. Heart disease: $1 billion. Strokes: $700 million. Include Parkinson’s, hemophilia A, MS and macular degeneration, and we could reduce health care costs by as much as $8.5 billion annually.

There’s also the economic impact of new infrastructure and support industries as stem cell therapies begin to reach patients. In fact, even in 2005, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that the regenerative medicine market would grow to as much as $500 billion globally.

Canada is better positioned than most to continue to lead in this field. We were the pioneers of stem cell research and we continue to be globally recognized leaders. We have the opportunity to transform our health care system and create new opportunities in the economy. And at the centre of all of this is the health of those we love. The lives that can be transformed as new therapies reach the clinic.

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01
Mar 2013
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“glow” Magazine Shows How Stem Cells Heal

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Discussions about the healing power of stem cells are often focused on the future. We hear about the promise and potential yet to come.…

Discussions about the healing power of stem cells are often focused on the future. We hear about the promise and potential yet to come. And there’s no doubt that we are still in the early days in terms of the clinical applications of stem cells to treat or even cure disease. But it’s not all in the future.

Meet Jennifer Molson

The upcoming issue of Shoppers Drug Mart’s “glow” magazine shares a powerful story about how stem cells are helping people today.

The article focuses on Jennifer Molson who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1996. Jennifer was young, healthy, and active. She was working full time, going to college and volunteering with the Ottawa Police Youth Program

But all that was about to change. She started to experience numbness and tingling in her hands and was constantly tired. Soon after diagnosed with MS. After a short time her condition started to decline quickly and her diagnosis was changed to what’s called Secondary Progressive MS—an even more serious condition.

In 2001, Jennifer entered the Canadian MS Bone Marrow Transplant Study led by Drs. Mark Freedman and Harold Atkins at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa. The study was funded by the MS Society with the goal of re-growing the immune systems of patients with MS using the patient’s own stem cells.

Do Stem Cell’s Heal?

Jennifer’s experience was not an easy one, nor was it without risks—of seizures, sterility, and even death. But over time, things started to change for her—gradually at first. She tells us that it took almost two years before she started to feel better.

In fact, the improvements that Jennifer experienced were unexpected. The goal of the study was to stop the progression of MS, but Jennifer’s results went further.

If you ran into Jennifer today, you probably wouldn’t know what she’s been through. She’s left her wheelchair behind and today she works full time, she can drive, and she’s completely independent (she even skis).

Jennifer Molson is an inspiration. She’s a reminder that while stem cell research still has a long way to go, it’s changing lives today. We encourage you to read more about Jennifer’s moving story in the upcoming issue of “glow” magazine.

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15
Feb 2013
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The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation Welcomes Stephen Snyder to the Board of Directors

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Canada has shown true leadership in stem cell science. The original discovery was made here and the pioneering work of James Till and Ernest McCulloch’s established the foundation for generations of scientists who continue to show their leadership.

Canada has shown true leadership in stem cell science. The original discovery was made here and the pioneering work of James Till and Ernest McCulloch’s established the foundation for generations of scientists who continue to show their leadership.

New Leaders Are Supporting the Stem Cell Cause

Today, as scientists make new discoveries and we move closer to the clinical application of stem cell science, new leaders are joining the cause. Philanthropists, celebrities, and business leaders are committing to support stem cell science and ensuring that Canada builds on its legacy of leadership in stem cell science.

Their leadership is raising awareness of the cause. They are lending their expertise, making financial commitments, and sharing the promise of stem cell science with others. Their contributions are critical in providing guidance to the Foundation as we build broad-based support among Canadians.

A Distinguished Business and Community Leader

As the work of the Foundation grows, our Board of Directors has grown as well. Today, we are pleased to introduce one of the newest members of the Board, Mr. Stephen Snyder.

Mr. Snyder is a distinguished business and community leader. He has led the growth and development of a number of major Canadian businesses as President & CEO including TransAlta Corporation, Camco Inc., Noma Industries Ltd., and GE Canada. He is also a Director of Intact Financial Corporation and a past Director of CIBC, Canadian Hunter and Zenon Environmental.

His commitment to the community is no less impressive. Mr. Snyder has been asked to Chair a number of prestigious charitable and non-profit organizations including:

    • The Calgary Stampede Foundation Campaign
    • The Alberta Secretariat to End Homelessness
    • The Canada-Alberta ecoEnergy Carbon Capture & Storage Task Force
    • The Conference Board of Canada
    • The Calgary Zoological Society and the Zoo’s “Destination Africa” capital campaign
    • The Canadian Electrical Association
    • The United Way of Calgary and Area

Mr. Snyder’s contributions have been widely recognized. In 2005, he was awarded the Alberta Centennial Medal in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the province. In 2008, he received the Honorary Associate Award from The Conference Board of Canada, and in 2009 he was awarded the Chamber of Commerce Sherrold Moore Award of Excellence.

We are honoured that Mr. Snyder has chosen to dedicate his time and his passion to the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. His leadership complements the commitments made by our other distinguished Board Members to reinforce Canada’s continued leadership in the field of stem cell science.

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01
Feb 2013
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World President’s Organization Builds Deeper Understanding of Stem Cell Science

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This fall, the Ontario chapter of the World Presidents’ Organization (WPO) invited the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation to lead their members in discussion about the power and promise of stem cell science.…

This fall, the Ontario chapter of the World Presidents’ Organization (WPO) invited the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation to lead their members in discussion about the power and promise of stem cell science.

Canada’s Business Leaders Want to Know More About Stem Cells

The mission of the WPO, whose members lead multi-million-dollar companies, is a simple one: better leaders through education and idea exchange. Clearly, Canada’s leaders want to know more about stem cell science:  the event, held at the Corus Entertainment offices in Toronto, “sold out” almost immediately after it was announced. The more than 120 business leaders and their guests who took more than a half-day out of their busy schedules to attend came away with a deeper understanding of stem cell science, Canada’s strength in the field, and what the future may hold.

A Unique Conversation

Dr. Alan Bernstein (Chair of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation Board) led the conversation and, with the help of six panelists, walked the WPO participants through the promise, the politics, and the opportunities of stem cell science.

The Promise

Dr. Mick Bhatia, Director of the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute at McMaster University provided an overview of the current state of the research and how it is being applied in clinics today.

Deborah Sissmore shared her experiences of being diagnosed with diabetes as a child and losing her sight as a result of complications. Ms. Sissmore was one of the first patients to successfully receive an islet cell transplant (also called the Edmonton Protocol) to treat her condition.

The Politics

Prof. Tim Caulfield, Research Director of the Health Law and Science Policy Group at the University of Alberta, walked the participants through the social, ethical, legal and public policy issues that have emerged around stem cells — everything from the use of embryonic stem cells and cloning to stem cell tourism and stem cell fraud.

The Honourable Anne McLellan (former Deputy Prime Minister, Minster of Public Safety, and Federal Minister of Health) shared her perspectives on the political environment and issues that arose as Canada developed the first international framework for stem cell research.

The Opportunities

WPO members also heard about the opportunities and challenges of commercializing stem cell research. Greg Bonfiglio (Chair of the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine in Toronto) helped frame the technical, financial and intellectual property challenges, putting stem cell technology and therapeutics in context with other technology sectors.

Dr. Allen Eaves (Founder & CEO of STEMCELL Technologies) shared his experiences in building STEMCELL Technologies into one of Canada’s most successful biotechnology companies. Dr. Eaves also offered his thoughts on what will be required to help build other strong Canadian companies in the field of stem cell science.

This Was Just The Beginning

Throughout the discussion WPO members asked questions and shared their thoughts about stem cell science, Canada’s strength in the field, the impact it’s having today, and what the future holds. And the event didn’t end there.

Many WPO members participated in tours of stem cell laboratories. Cheryl McEwen, whose husband Rob is a WPO member, welcomed members to the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Dr. Gordon Keller, one of Canada’s leading researchers, gave a tour of the facilities, outlining the progress that the Centre has made.

Members also visited Dr. Bhatia’s lab at McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute. He and his team gave the WPO behind-the-scenes access to the work that is underway in the labs today.

We would like to thank the WPO members and guests, as well as the panelists, for their commitment and their focused and engaged discussion. In particular, we would like to offer special thanks for the leadership of WPO members Fred Jacques who chaired the event and Robb Chase who is the WPO education chair. A key role of the Foundation is to help Canadians understand stem cell science. We deeply appreciated the opportunity to provide the World Presidents’ Organization with a trusted, reliable, and grounded view of the power and promise of stem cell science.

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