2015

03
Dec 2015
Share This
6 Comments

Dr. Eva Feldman

Major trial for ALS therapy in the works

Posted by

Dr. Eva Feldman devoted 12 years to working on a drug-based cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  It was, she says, “a very big endeavour.”  It failed.…

Dr. Eva Feldman devoted 12 years to working on a drug-based cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  It was, she says, “a very big endeavour.”  It failed.

So, in 2006 the University of Michigan clinician/researcher took a sabbatical to rethink her approach to fighting ALS, the cruel, fatal condition that attacks the nerve cells (neurons) that control muscle movement.  “I wanted a break,” she says.  In California, Dr. Feldman found scientists doing interesting animal studies on treating spinal cord injury with stem cells. It changed her perspective entirely.

Today, with two early-stage human studies behind her, Dr. Feldman hopes to soon begin a large-scale clinical trial to test whether human neural stem cells injected into the spinal columns of ALS patients can stop the disease from stealing their ability to walk, talk, eat and breathe.

“We inject the cells into the high part of the spinal cord of patients with ALS with the goal of protecting the large motor neurons that are necessary to maintain normal breathing.  Our goal is for the stem cells to go into that area, surround the neurons that are starting to get ill and nurse them back to health.  We do very similar injections in the lumbar area of the spine to preserve the neurons that go to the muscles that allow patients to walk.”

Preclinical studies she and her team conducted on rats and pigs showed that the stem cells “take a really bad environment and clean it up.” Inflammation is ameliorated and the stem cells surround the large, ailing motor neurons and nurse them back to health. “The cells go from looking like they are about to die to being quite healthy and robust,” says Dr. Feldman.

Phase I and II clinical trials involving 30 patients went “extremely well,” she says, with the procedure proven to be safe and the patients able to tolerate the accompanying immuno-suppressant therapy. “We have good preliminary data,” she says.

Neuralstem Inc., Dr. Feldman’s industry partner in the project, is organizing a large, multi-centre trial in 2016 to test whether the procedure truly works. Richard Garr, the company’s Chief Executive Office, is understandably guarded about the details, saying via email that his company is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and that “all of the issues with respect to the scope and nature of the trial are still being determined.”

Dr. Feldman, who has been down this road before with the failed ALS drug, is cautiously optimistic.  “As enthusiastic as I am about the therapy, until we do a very large trial we simply won’t know with certainty that this is the hopeful home run that we want it to be.”

For Ted Harada, a 43-year-old former FedEx manager in Atlanta, Dr. Feldman’s stem cell therapy has been a life-saver. The recipient of two stem cell implant surgeries, he has seen his decline from ALS virtually stopped.  The normal survival period for ALS, which is sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease after the New York Yankee slugger who succumbed to it, is about 36 months. He is now five years out and feeling good, although he still has the disease.

“I put my cane down two or three weeks after the (second) surgery and I haven’t picked it back up,” he says.  “When I had my fifth year anniversary, my doctor said ‘Ted, I would have guaranteed you’d be dead within two or three years when I first met you.’  I like to say that the surgeries set the clock back to what I call onset.”

Dr. Feldman says other patients in the studies also have done well but “the numbers are small … until our numbers are larger we can’t say with certainty.”

While criteria haven’t been set, participants in the larger trial likely will need to be in the early stages of the disease, with the ability to breathe reasonably well and speak and swallow without difficulty. Dr. Feldman says Canadian patients might be eligible if they can travel to a surgical site — but, again, details are still being worked out.

Dr. Feldman is also excited about the possibility of using the same kinds of stem cells to treat the dementia disease.

“I have beautiful preclinical data in animal models of Alzheimer’s. We’ve shown that the injection of stem cells into the selected areas of the brain that are required to form new memories rescues the animals and they are able to function normally. We see the accumulation of amyloid, which is the build-up of plaque that patients get, gone. The stem cells go in and they are just like garbage disposals, cleaning up all the garbage.  It’s remarkable.”

 

 

Click to read more Close
02
Dec 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Dr. Sheila Singh

Solving the Christopher mystery

Posted by

Dr. Sheila Singh is driven to know why one Christopher died when the other thrived.

About 20 years ago, while in her third year of a residency rotation and working in pediatric neurosurgery at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital, Dr.…

Dr. Sheila Singh is driven to know why one Christopher died when the other thrived.

About 20 years ago, while in her third year of a residency rotation and working in pediatric neurosurgery at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital, Dr. Singh was assigned two five-year-old boys. Both were named Christopher. Both had medulloblastoma, the most common kind of childhood brain tumour.

“I took care of them hour to hour, day to day. They both got the same surgery, the same chemo, the same radiation. In all clinical ways, the tumours were identical.  One Christopher did very well and was cured. The other died. I had this huge epiphany in that moment:  I realized that even if I did neurosurgery for the rest of my life, I would never figure out why one Christopher survived and one died.”

Dr. Singh realized that, along with being a brain surgeon, she needed to understand the molecular and cellular biology of brain tumours.  She entered the Surgeon Scientist Program at the University of Toronto where, while still a PhD student working in Dr. Peter Dirks’ lab, she was lead author on the 2004 Nature paper that identified human brain tumour initiating cells.

Since returning to her native Hamilton in 2007, Dr. Singh has worked as a pediatric neurosurgeon at McMaster Children’s Hospital while doing complementary research with Mac’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute.

“There’s a bridge that connects the Children’s Hospital on the fourth floor to where my lab is and I go back and forth.  When I have a whole week of clinical work, where I’m covering emergency operations on call and doing clinics, you see everything that the children go through.  When I go back to the lab, I’m filled with clinical questions: Why did this happen to this child? It’s gratifying to have this research lab where I can bring questions to a useful end.”

In her research, Dr. Singh uses preclinical mouse models of brain cancer to improve treatments for her patients.

“We’ve developed ways of adapting the therapies that we use on children for immune-deficient mice. We transplant the human tumours into the mice and treat them with the exact same chemotherapy or radiation protocols that the children get. So I can profile — in a personalized medicine way — what’s going on with each child’s tumour. That’s the aim of these preclinical models: to model what’s going on in the patient in a faster, higher-throughput way. I’m hoping that one day we will have a model that will allow us to feed back to the patient:  ‘You have this cell population that’s going to escape radiation, so you are going to need this added drug to help you with your therapy.’”

Another approach is to take a sample of the child’s tumour cells and test the use of various compounds to defeat them. “We have a compound screening and drug screening program at the Institute.  So we can take the patient’s cells and screen them against libraries of thousands and thousands of compounds. Theoretically, we can find something that will work better as a therapy.”

Regardless of the approach, hers is the opposite of ivory tower, research-for-research-sake activity.  It is all patient-driven.

“You see a lot of things in pediatric neurosurgery and all of them — good and bad — inspire my research.  And every person who works with me has a direct connection to the ‘Why?’ of research.  Very often patients and their families will come for a tour of the lab and my people get to meet them.  There is a real connection. People in my lab work twice as hard because they have that direct motivation.”

On a personal level, doing research has made her a more patient person.

“Surgeons — we’re activists. We like to say, ‘OK, we’ll take that tumour out and you’ll feel better.’ But research requires long-term thinking.  Research forces me to be patient, have vision and plan in the long term. I’m not a patient person, but I’m learning.”

Click to read more Close
19
Nov 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Dr. Michael Rudnicki

Trudeau government urged to invest in stem cells

Posted by

A week after his lab unveiled its game-changing research into the root causes of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (read about it here), Dr.

A week after his lab unveiled its game-changing research into the root causes of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (read about it here), Dr. Michael Rudnicki is urging the new Trudeau government to “put its money where its future is: stem cell research.”

In an iPolitics piece published today, Dr. Rudnicki applauded the new government for appointing Dr. Kirsty Duncan as a full-standing minister of Science.

“This is a welcome development in a country that hasn’t been celebrated enough for its contributions to the global scientific research enterprise,” writes Dr. Rudnicki, Scientific Director and CEO of the Stem Cell Network (SCN).  “One area of research that is particularly underfunded in Canada is, ironically, one that can start making a drastic difference in the health of Canadians and people around the world: stem cell research and personalized medicine.”

He recommended the new government consider the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy, which he called “the most progressive results-orientated health care document produced in years.”  Crafted by a coalition of scientists, medical doctors, health charity executives, industry experts, business leaders and philanthropists, the Strategy is championed by the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

Thursday’s article is the second recent iPolitics piece advocating stronger investment in stem cell research and development. In August, Foundation President & CEO authored a piece titled Small cells, big future: Why we need a national stem cell effort.

Click to read more Close
17
Nov 2015
Share This
0 Comments

From right, Will Wang, Caroline Brun, Dr. Michael Rudnicki and Dr. Nicolas Dumont

Canadian reseachers deliver another game-changer

Posted by

Within the space of two weeks, two Canadian scientists have unveiled game-changing research into stem cells — providing further proof of Canada’s prominent position in the field.…

Within the space of two weeks, two Canadian scientists have unveiled game-changing research into stem cells — providing further proof of Canada’s prominent position in the field.

On November 5th, the University of Toronto’s Dr. John Dick published a paper in Science that has researchers around the world rethinking how human blood gets made.  Dr. Dick’s team showed that the traditional understanding of blood production is wrong and that stem cells drive production of different kinds of blood cells much earlier than previously thought. This has huge implications for future treatments for blood-based cancers. We blogged about it here.

Yesterday came news that a University of Ottawa team led by Dr. Michael Rudnicki published a paper in Nature Medicine that could completely alter perceptions on how Duchenne muscular dystrophy happens — linking it to intrinsic defects in the function of muscle stem cells.

Affecting about one in about 3,600 boys, Duchenne muscular dystrophy occurs when genetic mutations deplete production of dystrophin protein, causing muscles to deteriorate.

According to an Ottawa Hospital Research Institute release, dystrophin was thought to be a simple structural protein found only in muscle fibres. The Ottawa team discovered that muscle stem cells also express the dystrophin protein. Without it they can produce only one-tenth the number of muscle precursor cells needed to generate functional muscle fibre.

Dr. Nicolas A. Dumont and Yu Xin (Will) Wang are co-lead authors on the paper. that also showed that dystrophin is a key piece of the molecular machinery that enables muscle stem cells to function.

“Muscle stem cells that lack dystrophin cannot tell which way is up and which way is down,” said Dr. Rudnicki. “This is crucial because muscle stem cells need to sense their environment to decide whether to produce more stem cells or to form new muscle fibres. Without this information, muscle stem cells cannot divide properly and cannot properly repair damaged muscle.”

Dr. Rudnicki was featured in many news reports about the discovery, including this feature by CBC.

 

Click to read more Close
05
Nov 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Dr. John Dick

Stem cell team redefines how blood is made

Posted by

Dr. John Dick has done it again.

The University Health Network researcher who first discovered cancer stem cells in 1994 and produced the “pure blood stem cell” in 2011, published a paper today in the prestigious journal Science that could reboot how scientists think about human blood and how it gets made.…

Dr. John Dick has done it again.

The University Health Network researcher who first discovered cancer stem cells in 1994 and produced the “pure blood stem cell” in 2011, published a paper today in the prestigious journal Science that could reboot how scientists think about human blood and how it gets made.

The paper proves “that the whole classic ‘textbook’ view we thought we knew doesn’t actually even exist,” says Dr. Dick, Senior Scientist at Toronto Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. “Instead … we have been able to finally resolve how different kinds of blood cells form quickly from the stem cell – the most potent blood cell in the system – and not further downstream as has been traditionally thought.” He talks about the research here.

According to a UHN news release, the research also topples the textbook view that the blood development system is stable once formed. “Our findings show that the blood system is two-tiered and changes between early human development and adulthood.”

Co-authors Dr. Faiyaz Notta and Dr. Sasan Zandi write that in redefining the architecture of blood development, the research team mapped the lineage potential of nearly 3,000 single cells from 33 different cell populations of stem and progenitor cells obtained from human blood samples taken at various life stages and ages.

The findings are significant to unlocking routes to personalized therapies for people with blood disorders and other diseases.

Today’s discovery builds on Dr. Dick’s breakthrough research, published in Science four years ago, when the team isolated a human blood stem cell in its purest form – as a single stem cell capable of regenerating the entire blood system. Dr. Dick was the first researcher to isolate the cancer stem cell — the cell that drives tumour growth, which triggered  a new approach to cancer research.

Click to read more Close
04
Nov 2015
Share This
0 Comments
cellCAN official

Caption goes here

Montreal event aims to separate stem cell myths from realities

Posted by

When it comes to stem cells and regenerative medicine, how can you tell the difference between fiction and reality?

Remarkable advances in stem cell research have led to sensational claims — especially from private clinics offering miraculous cures for a myriad of diseases. …

When it comes to stem cells and regenerative medicine, how can you tell the difference between fiction and reality?

Remarkable advances in stem cell research have led to sensational claims — especially from private clinics offering miraculous cures for a myriad of diseases.  But what’s the real story?

Our colleagues at CellCAN Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network hope to clear the air this week with an Information Day on Cell Therapy. The Thursday, Nov. 5th session at Montreal’s La Grande Place, complexe Desjardins – 150, Ste-Catherine West, runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a panel discussion at noon.

CellCAN has developed an app for event participants to view to our Foundation’s Toward Treatments summaries of the state of stem cell research into 19 diseases.  You can find them here.

Organizers say the goal of the day is to distinguish “myths from the realities, and embrace the true potential of stem cells” so that “more Canadians benefit from this revolutionary medicine.”

 

Click to read more Close
03
Nov 2015
Share This
0 Comments

(Lisa Willemse photo for OIRM) Stem cell co-discover Jim Till and award winner Tim Keiffer

On the verge of new treatments that will change lives

Posted by

We are at a crucial moment in time for stem cell research and development in Canada.

For almost two decades the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine “has been long on promise, short on product,” according to a feature article in the current issue Biotechnology Focus magazine.…

We are at a crucial moment in time for stem cell research and development in Canada.

For almost two decades the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine “has been long on promise, short on product,” according to a feature article in the current issue Biotechnology Focus magazine.

But that is changing quickly, the article points out.  In clinical trials underway across Canada, researchers are using stem cells to treat diabetes, heart attacks, osteoarthritis and spinal cord injury to name just a few. There is a growing feeling that the field is on the verge of delivering new treatments that will change the lives of patients suffering from chronic, debilitating diseases.

That sentiment was also on display at last week’s Till & McCulloch Meetings in Toronto. The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation is a partner  with the retiring Stem Cell Network, the Canadian Centre for Regenerative Medicine and the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who co-host the premier stem cell event in Canada. It brings together some 400 scientists, clinicians and industry leaders to share insights into how to move the field forward.

Chosen as the 2015 Till & McCulloch Award Winner, Dr. Timothy Kieffer of the University of British Columbia gave the keynote lecture at the closing session and shared his optimism at the progress his lab and others are making towards defeating diabetes.

Drawing from a paper published in Nature Biotechnology last year, he described how his team reversed diabetes in mice using insulin-producing cells derived from human stem cells.  Looking forward to moving his work into clinical trials, Dr. Kieffer says it’s just a matter of time before stem cells provide the needed source of cells to replace insulin injections, sparing millions of diabetics of the need for needles and rigorously monitoring their blood sugar levels several times a day.  He predicts this will happen within 10 years.

In short, good things are happening. Obstacles are being overcome. Cures are on their way. The horizon is getting closer and we can see the possibilities more clearly now.

 

 

 

Click to read more Close
02
Nov 2015
Share This
0 Comments
Harry Atkins capture

Dr. Harry Atkins

Doctors hailed for innovative MS treatment

Posted by

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the work that Drs. Mark Freedman and Harry Atkins are doing to fight multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases with stem cells.…

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the work that Drs. Mark Freedman and Harry Atkins are doing to fight multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases with stem cells. We have profiled both doctors and featured patients like Jennifer Molson, who had her MS eliminated by the treatment more than a decade ago.

On Friday, the Ottawa Citizen provided a comprehensive update headlined ‘Ottawa doctors behind breakthrough multiple sclerosis study.” The report focuses on Alex Normandin, who was a third-year medical student in Montreal when he became patient No. 19 of 24 in the original trial and underwent his bone marrow stem cell transplant in 2008. Now a practising MD, he told the paper that “Life is great.”

So far,  more than 30 MS patients have been treated with stem cell transplants arising from the Ottawa study, which received funding from the Research Foundation of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.

It is not a treatment to be entered into lightly: the extreme chemotherapy patients go through before their own fortified stem cells are reintroduced to reboot their immune systems can be fatal.

However,  in a country with one of the world’s highest rates of MS — between 55,000 to 75,000 Canadians are affected —- such innovative treatments are  enormously encouraging.

Click to read more Close
01
Oct 2015
Share This
1 Comment

George Canyon, left, and David Prowten with Encaptra device

Canada AM highlights ‘closest thing to diabetes cure’

Posted by

This morning on Canada AM, country music star George Canyon and David Prowten, president of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) talked about their great hopes for a new stem cell device that could free diabetics from daily insulin injections. 

This morning on Canada AM, country music star George Canyon and David Prowten, president of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) talked about their great hopes for a new stem cell device that could free diabetics from daily insulin injections. 

Mr. Canyon, who has had type 1 diabetes since age 14, called the  device “the closest thing to a cure that I have ever seen … This is going to change the lives of 300,000 type 1 diabetics in Canada.”

Mr. Prowten, holding up the four-centimetre-long device, described it as “a big step forward.”

The Encaptra device, developed by a California-based biotechnology company called ViaCyte Inc. with help from the University of Alberta’s Dr. James Shapiro, has been featured in this space before.

Dr. Shapiro received Health Canada’s approval earlier this year to conduct a Phase1/2 clinical trial of the  stem cell-derived islet replacement treatment for diabetes.  It involves inserting the device, which is loaded with pancreatic progenitor cells, under the patient’s skin where new blood vessels grow around it and the body’s immune system doesn’t try to destroy it, enabling regulation of blood glucose levels. The Edmonton-based trial, supported by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions and JDRF, follows one ViaCyte began last year in San Diego.

According to the Canada AM report, the first patient has now received the device. The early stage testing will be to see if the device is safe and is well tolerated. Within a year to 18 months scientists should learn if it actually works.  If it does,

“This could give me 10 to 12 months at a time of not really having diabetes, being able to go a day without testing, and taking insulin, Mr. Canyon said. “This is Disney World, right here.”

The report shows how close Canadian stem cell researchers are to delivering bold new therapies for a number of life-threatening conditions including, heart disease, cancer and Multiple Sclerosis. And it provides one more reason for telling politicians who are currently seeking your vote that you support the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan to bring more clinical trials to Canada. Take a minute to show your support here.

Click to read more Close
15
Sep 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Take the 2-minute test for Type 2 diabetes

Posted by

Are you at risk of having pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes?

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA), Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can’t properly process insulin (called insulin insensitivity) or does not make enough insulin so that sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used as energy.…

Are you at risk of having pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes?

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA), Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can’t properly process insulin (called insulin insensitivity) or does not make enough insulin so that sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used as energy. About 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2. It is more typical in adults, but children can be affected too.

The CDA has developed an online quiz for Canadians to see if they are at risk. Currently more than 9 million people in this country either have the disease or are in pre-diabetes. You can find out in just two minutes.  Click here to take the test.

Canada is a global leader in diabetes research. Almost 100 years ago, Frederick Banting and Charles Best discovered insulin and gave diabetics around the world the chance to live full lives. Now, Canadian stem cell researchers are working on ways to make those daily insulin injections a thing of the past via stem cell transplants.  The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan will help make it happen.  Click here to tell your federal candidates that you support the Action Plan — and that they should, too.

Click to read more Close
14
Sep 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Globe & Mail: Want a flourishing economy? Invest in stem cell R&D.

Posted by

How can Canada’s leadership hopefuls nurse our ailing economy back to health without leaving it susceptible to the global viruses of the resource and manufacturing sectors?…

How can Canada’s leadership hopefuls nurse our ailing economy back to health without leaving it susceptible to the global viruses of the resource and manufacturing sectors?

By investing in stem cell research, according to the Globe & Mail’s list of 15 ways to create a flourishing economy.

On Saturday, the Globe’s Eric Andrew-Gee wrote that  while “pulling things out of the ground and hammering steel have been pillars of Canada’s economy for at least a generation,”swings in global demand have often left the country in the economic lurch. The Globe polled economists and public policy gurus to produce 15 smart ideas “that wring as much as possible out of the old economy and help a new economy flourish.”

Stem cell research is Number 10. The article noted that stem cell research “was invented in 1960s Toronto. So, some researchers have asked, why not make Canada a ‘magnet’ for such research today?”

While the federal government has indicated it understands the potential economic and disease-curing benefits of stem cells — most recently with at $114-million, seven-year grant to the University of Toronto — “more can be done,” given that California, with a population similar to Canada’s, has already invested $3 billion.

The Globe’s article resonates with sentiments expressed in an Aug. 24 op-ed by James Price, Canadian Stem Cell Foundation President and CEO. Published in iPolitics, the article makes it clear that “Canadians across the country want and need a national stem cell effort.”

Such a plan is ready. The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan was developed by Canada’s top researchers, medical professionals, health charity leaders, industry partners and to position Canada to deliver up to 10 new curative therapies to the clinic within 10 years. While federal funding is needed to launch the program, two-thirds of its support will come from non-federal sources.

Help boost the economy and save lives. Tell the politicians seeking your vote that you support the stem cell Action Plan. Just click here. It takes less than two minutes.

Click to read more Close
08
Sep 2015
Share This
0 Comments

T&M Meetings bring together top minds in stem cell field

Posted by

Our Foundation is proud to be a major sponsor of the Till & McCulloch Meetings, Canada’s premier stem cell research event.…

Our Foundation is proud to be a major sponsor of the Till & McCulloch Meetings, Canada’s premier stem cell research event.

Named after Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, the conference brings together Canada’s leading stem cell scientists, clinicians, bioengineers and ethicists, as well as representatives from industry, government, health and NGO sectors from around the world. The 2015 Till & McCulloch Meetings will take place in Toronto from October 26-28, 2015 at the Sheraton Centre Hotel.

For more information about the conference or to register click here.

This year’s session will feature several scientists whose innovative research has been highlighted in this space, including Drs. Jeff Biernaskie, Connie Eaves, Tim Kieffer and Ivar Mendez. As well, Foundation President & CEO James Price and Board Chair Dr. Alan Bernstein will update delegates on the progress being made to secure support for implementing the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan. To show your support for the Strategy, click here.

 

Click to read more Close
02
Sep 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Dr Karl Fernandeds (CBC News)

Canadian researchers make headway against Alzheimer’s, liver disease

Posted by

It has been a very good week for Canadian stem cell researchers, with two significant discoveries.

(Both discoveries show how Canadian scientists rank among the best in the world in the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine.

It has been a very good week for Canadian stem cell researchers, with two significant discoveries.

(Both discoveries show how Canadian scientists rank among the best in the world in the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine. Our Foundation advocates for the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan to accelerate the translation of research discoveries into new, safe and effective treatments for a number of diseases. During the election campaign, we’re urging all Canadians to help put stem cells on the government’s agenda.  It only takes two minutes.  Just click here.)

First came news last Thursday that researchers affiliated with the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre have identified fat droplets in the brains of patients who died from Alzheimer’s disease. These deposits appear to block stem cells from repairing brain tissue, possibly triggering dementia.

The fat deposits have been hiding in plain sight for more than 100 years. “We realized that Dr. Alois Alzheimer himself had noted the presence of lipid accumulations in patients’ brains after their death when he first described the disease in 1906,” says Laura Hamilton, a doctoral student who found fat droplets near the stem cells in the brains of mice predisposed to develop the disease. “But this observation was dismissed and largely forgotten.” Her remarks are highlighted in the research centre’s press release about the discovery.

The findings have implications for treating and potentially curing dementia, which currently affects almost 750,000 people in Canada, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada’s Mimi Lowli-Young, who was featured in a CBC News report on the discovery. The Alzheimer Society helped fund the work.

The hope is that drugs to block fatty acid build-up, which are now being tested to fight obesity, could also help treat dementia. “We succeeded in preventing these fatty acids from building up in the brains of mice,” explained the University of Montreal’s Dr. Karl Fernandes. “The impact of this treatment on all the aspects of the disease is not yet known, but it significantly increased stem cell activity,”

Finding a treatment is still years away. But the discovery opens a new pathway to combat Alzheimer’s.

The second Canadian accomplishment comes from the lab Dr. Gordon Keller, Director of the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Toronto.

A team of clinicians-scientists has found a way to generate 3D bile duct structures from human stem cells. The structures will allow scientists to study bile duct disorders, which cause liver disease, and test new treatments.

“Until now, we have not had a good scientific model to study the human liver’s bile duct system,” explains Dr. Anand Ghanekar, a clinician-scientist at Toronto General Research Institute, in a University Health Network news release. “We need to be able to study a patient’s disease in a dish at the basic cellular and molecular level. Stem cell technology gives us a totally different way of evaluating and then treating these defective cells.”

The discovery also has implications for treating Cystic Fibrosis because many patients with that disease also have defective bile duct function and liver disease.

 

Click to read more Close
27
Aug 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Dr. Bernard Thébaud

Neonatal expert believes stem cells will revolutionize medicine

Posted by

 Dr. Bernard Thébaud believes that stem cells can help the tiniest of babies breathe easier. And now he has a grant to help make that happen.…

 Dr. Bernard Thébaud believes that stem cells can help the tiniest of babies breathe easier. And now he has a grant to help make that happen.

As Ottawa South News reported this month, Dr. Thébaud’s team is among 22 at the Ottawa Hospital awarded more than $28 million through a new grant offered by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the federal government’s health research funding agency. His team received $3.2 million.

“It’s a unique opportunity because instead of classical funding for three to five years for one project, it’s three projects for seven years,” Thébaud told the publication. “It gives you the peace of mind to work and get the job done.”

Dr. Thébaud’s six full-time researchers are working to translate stem-cell research into clinical treatments that can save lives. They have published papers showing that mesenchymal stem cells from umbilical cords could be used to treat bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or BPD, a disease that affects about 10,000 premature babies in North America every year.  These newborns receive oxygen via machines to help them survive. However this also damages their lungs and impedes development.

“We are one of the very few labs in the world that is banking on the therapeutic potential of these stem cells that may likely revolutionize medicine,” he told the publication.

Within 18 months, Dr. Thébaud plans to conduct a pilot study with up to 20 newborns to show that the stem cell therapy is feasible. If the results are positive, he will launch a randomized control trial, leading to the development of a new treatment.

His team is also investigating the use of another type of cord-blood stem cells, endothelial progenitor cells, to stimulate blood vessel growth and overall lung growth.

“It’s not about doing the science for the science’s sake,” he told the Ottawa South News. “It’s about driving the science and medication into the clinic.”

Click to read more Close
24
Aug 2015
Share This
0 Comments

3 reasons why we need the Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan

Posted by

Why does Canada need a coast-to-coast-to-coast stem cell effort?

Three big reasons, says James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, in today’s edition of iPolitics.

Why does Canada need a coast-to-coast-to-coast stem cell effort?

Three big reasons, says James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, in today’s edition of iPolitics.

“To maintain our position as a global leader in the field that we discovered and pioneered, to help thousands of Canadians and their loved ones who are struggling with life-threatening conditions, and to transform the stem cell sector into a thriving industry built on high-quality jobs that support families across the country, we need a truly national stem cell effort.

Mr. Price makes the point that with the election campaign now fully underway, it’s time for our politicians to commit to supporting the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, which will see Canada lead the way in delivering up to 10 new therapies to the clinic within 10 years.

Click to read more Close
20
Aug 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Dr. Brian Goldman

More than politics: why health – and stem cells – should be an election issue

Posted by

Dr. Brian Goldman, host of CBC Radio’s weekly medical show White Coat, Black Art, wants to know why health care has fallen off the discussion table in this year’s federal election.…

Dr. Brian Goldman, host of CBC Radio’s weekly medical show White Coat, Black Art, wants to know why health care has fallen off the discussion table in this year’s federal election.

In his blog, he points to the Maclean’s magazine “Federal Issues 2015” rundown of what the federal parties are talking about during the election and notes the following:

“Terrorism made the list. So did defence spending. Jobs, crime, climate. No problem. Heath care? Nada.”

Dr. Goldman, an emergency room physician when he’s not broadcasting his view-from-the-front-lines show on the state of health care, wants to know why party leaders aren’t talking about our struggling health care system and what they might do to fix it.

We agree. Our Foundation has been actively advocating for the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan — a private-sector led plan to deliver up to 10 new curative therapies within 10 years. The Plan aligns the key players — scientists, doctors, industry experts, health charity leaders and philanthropists — to follow through on the promise of stem cells to come up with cures that have baffled medical science for centuries.  You can watch a short video of what scientists doing the research hope to do here.

Health — and stem cells’ role in health care — should be a major election issue.  Health is always top of mind for all Canadians. In early 2014, Abacus Data reported that health care was the number one issue for Canadian voters — well ahead of taxes and job creation. Just last Christmas, the Toronto Star’s political columnist Susan Delacourt predicted that health care would be one of two sleeper issues of the 2015 election campaign:

“…rather than ask the pundits for their predictions about the ballot-box issue for the 2015 election, maybe we should be asking what was on the minds of people around the holiday dinner table this week (besides seconds or desserts). My bet? Health care and seniors’ issues. If Canadian families are not already grappling with health-care concerns at this immediate moment, many are expecting to be juggling matters related to senior care, especially as the population ages.”

So where did health go as an election issue?

Stuff happened. When the price of a barrel of crude oil drops from $107 US to hovering just above $40, it tends to grab the attention of everyone living in a country with a resource-based economy. Canada has also suffered two deadly acts of terrorism this past year, heightening our fears about security in a troubled world. And now the Mike Duffy trial has replaced the weather as the topic du jour at backyard barbecues.

It’s a shame, because our health is absolutely paramount to everything in life. It is a rare Canadian family without someone — an elderly parent, a partner, a child, a niece or nephew — who is struggling with a debilitating, chronic health condition.

Stem cells were discovered in Canada and Canadian researchers are on the verge of delivering stem cell cures for devastating conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, MS & Parkinson’s. We need the Action Plan to make it happen right here, right now. Beyond saving lives, it would also ease the strain on health care — and boost the economy.

We are calling on the Government of Canada and all political parties to commit to contributing just one-third of the investments, about $50 million annually over 10 years.  You can find out everything about the Action Plan here. Then you can call on your local federal politician to support the Action Plan.

Because this is not just a political issue.  It’s more than an election issue.

It’s a life and death reality that touches us all.

Click to read more Close
17
Aug 2015
Share This
0 Comments
Jeff Biernaskie Screen Captuer

Jeff Biernaskie

Researchers ask burn survivors: ‘What would make life better?’

Posted by

When Dr. Jeff Biernaskie and his University of Calgary Skin Regeneration Team set to work to build better skin grafts with stem cells, they wanted to talk to those with the most at stake: burn injury survivors.…

When Dr. Jeff Biernaskie and his University of Calgary Skin Regeneration Team set to work to build better skin grafts with stem cells, they wanted to talk to those with the most at stake: burn injury survivors.

“I came into this without the experience of working with patients,” says Dr. Biernaskie, an assistant professor in stem cell biology. “So I got together with a burn physician Dr. Vincent Gabriel, to ask, ‘What are the deficiencies somebody faces when they’ve had a burn and a skin graft?’ We wanted to ask them, ’What would make your quality of life better?’”

The team is conducting patient surveys to find out how burn survivors feel about their grafts, what their expectations are and how their priorities change over time.  They are also asking how burn survivors feel about stem cell transplants to regenerate dermal tissue — the thick layer under the epidermis that contains blood capillaries, nerve endings, sweat glands and hair follicles.

“It’s a different kind of pain in the beginning than it is later — often chronic itch is more problematic than pain in the long term” says Dr. Biernaskie. “A year later, you also may have limitations on mobility because of scarring.  So you may have a very different perspective on what you’d be willing to accept in terms of the risks — for example, the risk of aberrant growth, which might require additional surgeries — or the potential of failure of the stem cell transplant.

“These are real concerns, but by talking to patients living with skin grafts, our goal is to identify their most critical deficiencies and then design therapies to address those, so that any potential shortcomings are outweighed by the potential gains in function.”

The survey findings will help guide the Skin Regeneration Team as they move closer to conducting clinical trials on human patients. Right now, they are transplanting human dermal stem cells into skin-grafted mice, and seeing positive results.

“We’re seeing the cells respond in the appropriate ways, spreading out across the area of the graft.  What’s impressive to me is to see that the cells actually move up into the skin graft and interact with the epidermal cells, repopulating parts of the graft that may have been deficient. By regenerating new dermis, we hope that we can positively affect the function of the overlying epidermis, which otherwise is typically quite fragile after split thickness skin grafting. The cells are starting to secrete a lot of the collagens and the other factors needed to remodel that skin.”

They hope to be testing the stem cell transplants in larger animals such as pigs, which have skin more similar to that of humans, within two years.

“We want to look at the innervation (interaction with the nerves) of the graft, vascularity of the graft, as well as the histological (anatomical) functions of the graft.  All these things need to be looked at to see how much of an impact we’re having.”

Ultimately, the goal is to use the burn patient’s own skin cells to create millions of dermal stem cells that can be used for transplant, an autologous procedure that limits the risk of rejection and the need for immunosuppression drugs.

The team has cell biologists working on characterization of adult dermal stem cells — drawing them out of skin from an adult human and understanding the biology behind them.  They are also working with bioengineers to explore how to expand the cells using bioreactors to rapidly generate the large numbers of cells needed.

“We want to develop an autologous cell-based therapy to regenerate the dermis — that’s really our goal,” says Dr. Biernaskie. “I’m optimistic.  We can readily get the cells out from a patient, we’re able to grow them up from relatively small numbers of starting cells and we’re working on different matrices and scaffolds to improve survival and integration once they’re grafted in.”

He is even more optimistic about using stem cells to treat chronic skin wounds.

“Think of elderly patients with chronic wounds who are having their dressing changed every three days or so. That’s a lot of nursing costs, and bandages.  And it’s grueling for the patients. If you could take a biopsy, grow up a few hundred millions of cells, and then repopulate a chronic wound in order to get it to close and re-epithelialize, that would really have an impact on quality of life — and on the associated health care costs. That’s something we’re going to look at.”

The work being done by the Skin Regeneration Team is supported by Alberta Innovates Health Solutions and the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society.

Current care for burn injuries:
The current standard care for deep burns is split thickness skin grafting, which involves taking epidermis (outer) and part of the dermis (inner) layers of skin from elsewhere on the patient’s body and then grafting it onto the burn site.  Short term, the process is painful. Long term, additional grafts are often needed and the transplanted skin tends to scar, which can severely limit mobility, and are extremely fragile, leading to frequent wounds.  Also, the grafted skin is devoid of dermal appendages, such as sweat glands and hair follicles.

The potential stem cell solution:
Researchers hope stem cells drawn from the patient’s healthy skin can be coaxed to create millions of precursor cells than can be seeded into the dermal layer of the burn wound to generate new skin tissue that will fully integrate with the epidermal layer and help to grow new dermal appendages. The hope is that this regenerated tissue will be less prone to scarring and bleeding and provide better overall function.

[Find out more about stem cells and wound healing here.]

Click to read more Close
13
Aug 2015
Share This
1 Comment

Dr. Ivar Mendez

A stem cell solution to Parkinson’s?

Posted by

Parkinson’s, is not a kind disease. As dopamine-generating cells in their brains deteriorate, patients must deal with tremors; their feet may suddenly seem to freeze to the floor; they may have difficulty swallowing.  …

Parkinson’s, is not a kind disease. As dopamine-generating cells in their brains deteriorate, patients must deal with tremors; their feet may suddenly seem to freeze to the floor; they may have difficulty swallowing.  Walking becomes a stiff-limbed shuffle.

While drugs such as levodopa and dopamine agonists have greatly enhanced quality of life for Parkinson’s patients, their effectiveness diminishes over time. Deep brain stimulation has also proved helpful, but it does not slow the pace of neurodegeneration.

Stem cell transplants, however, may offer a longer-lasting solution.

“I think Parkinson’s is going to be the first neurological condition where stem cell therapy will be used widely,” says Dr. Ivar Mendez, Unified Head of the Department of Surgery at the University of Saskatchewan.  “We’re looking at transplanting one cell type. So we can direct the stem cells to become that type of cell — a Group A9 dopaminergic neuron.”

Transplanting cells into the brains of Parkinson’s patients in the hope of restoring dopamine neurotransmission is nothing new: it’s been going on for more than 25 years.  The results, according to a 2013 report in The Lancet, “have been variable and, thus, the merits of this approach have been both questioned and championed.”

The variation in results has been attributed to, among other things, the use of different strategies or protocols for transplanting the cells.  A key Canadian contribution to solving that problem is the Halifax Protocol for injecting cells into the human brain. Developed by Dr. Mendez, who was then at Dalhousie University, in collaboration with researchers from Toronto, Montreal and Calgary, the Halifax Protocol is regarded as the gold standard for effective brain repair using cell implantation.

“We developed the methodology for clinical transplantation,” says Dr. Mendez.  “When reviewers looked at all the grafts of all the patients who have been transplanted across the world, it was felt that ours did the best, in large part because of the methodology we developed.”

Dr. Mendez is working with fellow Parkinson’s stem cell pioneer Dr. Ole Isacson of Harvard to use induced pluripotent stem cells created from skin tissue to make dopamine-generating cells that, once transplanted, will integrate into the brain circuitry and restore motor function.

The process is autologous, meaning the stem cells come from the patient themselves, so no immunosuppression therapy is required. As well, researchers have come up with ways to generate the millions of cells required and have developed processes to make those cells robust enough to do the job.  So far, tests with large animals have shown positive results.

“We are continuing to work with animal models until we’re ready to start on a clinical trial, which should go ahead probably in the next two to three years,” says Dr. Mendez. “But I’m always concerned not to build unnecessary expectations among people affected by the disease.”

Other research centres are also working on a stem cell solution to Parkinson’s, with clinical trials using fetal cells currently underway in the United Kingdom.

“We’re very enthusiastic,” says Dr. Mendez. “Resolving the issue on a long-term basis, that is really the attraction. If one cell deteriorates or degenerates with time, can we actually replace that cell and reconstruct the circuitry? If we can, it’s a one-shot procedure. You do it only once and then the transplant will integrate into the host.”

Such a solution, however, could still be many years away.  Researchers need to be sure the cells they inject will do the intended job, without causing additional problems or perhaps generating tumours.

“We’re quite advanced in terms of realistically looking at a clinical trial,” says Dr. Mendez. “But we have to make sure that the preclinical scientific evidence is solid to ensure success”

[Find out more about stem cells and Parkinson’s here.] 

Click to read more Close
10
Aug 2015
Share This
2 Comments

Dr. Andy Becker

Andy Becker: stem cell pioneer and ‘amazing’ researcher

Posted by

Dr. Andy Becker, one of the true pioneers of stem cell science, has died in Toronto at age 80.

Dr.…

Dr. Andy Becker, one of the true pioneers of stem cell science, has died in Toronto at age 80.

Dr. Becker was the lead author of the 1963 paper, published in Nature, that definitively demonstrated the existence of stem cells. Using chromosomal markers, he retraced their steps after they had generated the three types of precursor cells needed to make blood.

“It was a key contribution to our early experimental investigations of stem cells,”Dr. Jim Till, who was Dr. Becker’s PhD  advisor at the time, wrote via email. “His combination of talent and persistence was what was needed to complete this challenging and innovative research. I’m still amazed at what he accomplished. I doubt if anyone else, at that time, could have succeeded in the way that Andy did.”

Dr. Becker worked closely with Drs. Ernest McCulloch and Till who, in 1961, had successfully shown that single cells drawn from bone marrow could produce colony-forming units containing the precursor cells required to make white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. That paper laid the foundation for stem cell science.

A third Till & McCulloch paper — also published in 1963 but with Dr. Lou Siminovitch as lead author –proved that stem cells not only differentiate into new cells but also have the capacity to self-renew in order to keep the process going throughout our lifetimes. Combined, the three papers essentially defined stem cells and set the stage for regenerative medicine.

Dr. Becker’s paper proved just how tenacious a researcher he  could be. The chromosomal marker method was nothing if not painstakingly frustrating, given the rudimentary technology available at the time. In the University of Toronto Press book Dreams & Due Diligence, Dr. Becker’s wife, Prof. Clelia Ganoza, explains that he had a “killer instinct” for research, which meant that “the goal is the important issue and the obstacles to overcome are just needed lessons towards this end.”

As the Toronto Star obituary explains, Dr. Becker, who was also a medical doctor, not only did seminal work with stem cells but contributed greatly to the development of recombinant DNA technology.

Here at the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, our hearts go out to Dr. Becker’s family, especially Prof. Ganoza, his wife of 47 years.

 

Click to read more Close
28
Jul 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Stem cell co-discoverer Dr. James Till at left with Dr. Peter Zandstra (CBC News)

$114-million research investment builds stem cell momentum

Posted by

Today’s announcement that the federal government will invest $114 million over seven years in the University of Toronto’s “Medicine by Design” research initiative comes as exciting news to every Canadian excited about the potential of regenerative medicine to save lives.…

Today’s announcement that the federal government will invest $114 million over seven years in the University of Toronto’s “Medicine by Design” research initiative comes as exciting news to every Canadian excited about the potential of regenerative medicine to save lives.

This is a significant momentum-builder for the field,” says James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. “It is great to see our country developing the assets it needs to make it increasingly possible to implement the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan.”

The Foundation supported the grant application – part of the federal government’s $1.5-billion Canada First Research Excellence Fund for universities and colleges – when the bid was submitted last winter. The Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology) made the announcement in Toronto.

“Stem cells offer avenues to treat – and perhaps cure – devastating and costly illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, blindness, lung disease, neurodegenerative disorders, and diseases of the blood and musculoskeletal system,” Dr. Peter Zandstra, a Medicine by Design leader and member of the Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, says in the Government of Canada’s press release.

The Strategy & Action Plan, developed by a coalition of researchers, medical professionals, health charities, industry leaders and philanthropists, sets the course for Canada to lead the way in delivering up to 10 new curative therapies within 10 years.  The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, both partners in the Medicine by Design initiative, played key roles in developing the Strategy.

Mr. Price calls Medicine by Design an important research-focused step toward building a vibrant regenerative medicine ecosystem that can deliver new therapies to the clinic. “We look forward to working with the University of Toronto on this important project.”

 

Click to read more Close
27
Jul 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Dr. Duncan Stewart (Ottawa Citizen)

‘It would be a shame for us to slide back’

Posted by

Canada is losing ground in the field it founded, says Dr. Duncan Stewart, one of the world’s leading stem cell scientists.…

Canada is losing ground in the field it founded, says Dr. Duncan Stewart, one of the world’s leading stem cell scientists.

“Generally, the pace (of funding) is slower and I think we are losing ground compared to other jurisdictions,” Dr. Stewart told the Ottawa Citizen’s Elizabeth Payne. “Canada has been a leader in this area. It would be a shame if we were to slide back.”

Dr. Stewart, Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital,  recently published results of the world’s first clinical trial of a genetically enhanced stem cell treatment for pulmonary arterial hypertension, a deadly disease for which there is no cure. The  results are promising, but a larger study is needed to see if the new therapy can produce long-term results. The money to do it, however, just isn’t there.

As the Citizen article points out: “Just as the promise of potential new stem cell therapies is blossoming, research funding is more uncertain than ever.”

The reality is Canadian researchers are poised to deliver new cures for devastating conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders like MS and Crohn’s, and neurological conditions like Parkinson’s, stroke and spinal cord injury. But it will take a coordinated effort to make that happen.

Our Foundation leads the coalition of researchers, medical professionals, health charities, industry leaders and philanthropists behind the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan. A bold private/public partnership, it would see Canada lead the way in delivering up to 10 new curative therapies within 10 years.

 

 

Click to read more Close
24
Jul 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Report calls stem cells a precise part of transforming health care

Posted by

Stem cells are part of the solution to transforming health care, according to the Federal Government’s Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation.…

Stem cells are part of the solution to transforming health care, according to the Federal Government’s Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation.

The Panel recently released its report, Unleashing Innovation: Excellent Healthcare for Canada. As part of its findings, the panelists noted “the inter-related areas of stem cell science, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine have opened up new therapeutic vistas” that are accelerating the transformation to “precision medicine.”

And what exactly is precision medicine? It is the opposite of the “one-size-fits-all” (or, better yet, “the one-drug-heals-all”) approach to health care. Sometimes called personalized medicine, it means diagnosing, treating and preventing illness with strategies tailored to an individual patient or subset of patients. It is being driven forward by technological advances that have made it possible to predict that a treatment that works for one patient may not work — and may be harmful — for another. By virtue of its very personal nature, stem cells and regenerative therapies are a type of precision medicine.

The benefits to precision medicine extend beyond avoiding adverse reactions. When drugs or treatments that are given to a patient are a bad fit, it’s a waste of the patient’s precious time (especially if the disease is life-threatening) and a misuse of the health care system’s already-limited resources

You’ll be hearing a lot more about precision medicine. As the Advisory Panel notes, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative in his 2015 State of the Union address, committing $215 million in funding. In a similar vein, Genomics England, a subsidiary of England’s National Health Service, announced it will sequence the genomes of 100,000 patients with rare diseases or cancer and their families. This will be linked to clinical data and made available at the bedside. In Australia, one of the National Health and Medical Health Research Council’s largest single grant competitions is for research funding to prepare for the genomics revolution in health care.

While much of the precision medicine attention is focused on genomics, stem cells and regenerative medicine work hand in hand with that field. More and more stem cell research is moving toward “autologous” stem cell solutions — using a person’s own stem cells to treat diseases such a blood-based cancers, autoimmune diseases, Parkinson’s, macular degeneration and to improve wound-healing.  Because these stem cells are self-supplied (though they go through manipulation to increase their volume and make them more robust), there is no need for immunosuppression drugs to fight off rejection. In short, they are a precise fit.

Much of what the Advisory Panel, led by the University of Toronto’s former president David Naylor, is suggesting echoes sentiments put forward in the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, a private-sector-led plan to deliver up to 10 new curative therapies within 10 years by aligning key players in the field – including researchers, clinicians, health charities, industry leaders and philanthropists. The Strategy notes that other countries are investing heavily in their own stem sectors and that if Canada does not act now, we will be left behind.

Speaking about precision medicine, to which stem cell science is intrinsic, the Advisory Panel warns that  “without a cogent strategy, without the right infrastructure  … without mechanisms to translate successful discoveries into both improved clinical care and exciting new businesses, Canada runs a risk of wasting opportunity and money – and falling even further behind our peers.”

Precisely.

Click to read more Close
29
Jun 2015
Share This
0 Comments

National public cord-blood bank officially launched

Posted by

Canadian Blood Services (CBS) has officially launched the national public cord-blood bank.

“This is a significant achievement for the Canadian health care system,” Dr.

Canadian Blood Services (CBS) has officially launched the national public cord-blood bank.

“This is a significant achievement for the Canadian health care system,” Dr. Graham Sher, CBS Chief Executive Officer, said in a press release. “Through our hospital partners, we are able to provide expectant mothers the opportunity to donate to a national public cord blood bank; increasing the chances for patients who need a stem cell transplant to find a match.”

As we reported in several articles here, the cord blood stored in the bank will be available to patients across the country who are unable to find donors among their families or donor lists. Cord blood cells are  a rich source of stem cells, which can be transplanted to treat several diseases, such as leukemia and lymphoma. With only about 25% of patients able to find a suitable donor among family members, most patients need help from an unrelated donor.

CBS now has five collection sites in four cities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa and Brampton, Ont. Two facilities, one in Edmonton and the other in Ottawa, will test, process and freeze individual units of cord blood, while collections in Vancouver and Brampton will help increase the possibility of patients from different ethnic backgrounds — including Asians, Aboriginal People and multi-ethnic people — finding a match.

“Some of the mixed racial groups are the hardest to find a match for,” Dr. Jan Christilaw, President of BC Women’s Hospital, told the CTV News. “So the more diverse the bank is, the better the chance that if you really need cord blood stem cells for any particular reason, you’ll be able to find it.”

CBS has raised $12.5 million of the $48-million cost of the program for the next eight years, with contributions also coming from provincial and territorial governments (Quebec excluded as it has its own public cord blood bank).

Click to read more Close
26
Jun 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Colon cancer: stem cells could lead to new target for treatment

Posted by

Canadian researchers have identified a new stem cell population in the colon linked to tumor growth. Their findings, published in Cell Stem Cell, could lead to new treatment approaches.…

Canadian researchers have identified a new stem cell population in the colon linked to tumor growth. Their findings, published in Cell Stem Cell, could lead to new treatment approaches.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of death in Canada. On average, 423 Canadians are diagnosed with this type of cancer every week.

There are two kinds of stem cells in the intestine: a rapidly recycling one called Lgr5+ and a second slower one. Researchers at the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario have identified the second stem cell in the colon, one that is long-lived and radiation resistant. They also found that this new stem cell population not only gives rise to tumors in the colon, but also helps sustain and support the growth of the cancer.

According to Dr. Samuel Asfaha, a clinician-scientist at Lawson Institute and an assistant professor of medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University, the identification of the cellular origin of colorectal cancer is critical to understanding how cancer arises and identifying new targets for treatments.

“These findings are exciting as we have identified an important new target for cancer therapy. It is also proof that more than one stem cell can give rise to and sustain tumors, telling us that our cancer therapy needs to target more than one stem cell pool.” said Dr. Asfaha in a press release.

Until now, physicians believed that radiation therapy was effective. “With this new information, we now know this is not always true and we must find new forms of therapy to target the disease,” said Dr. Asfaha.

Click to read more Close
18
Jun 2015
Share This
0 Comments

New company aims to improve stem cell transplants for leukemia

Posted by

Some time ago we blogged about the research into leukemia stem cells done by a team at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) of Université de Montréal.…

Some time ago we blogged about the research into leukemia stem cells done by a team at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) of Université de Montréal. This week, IRIC announced it is moving forward.

In collaboration with the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), IRIC Commercialization of Research (IRICoR), has launched ExCellThera, a spin-off company that will improve the process of cord blood stem cell transplantation for patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Click here to discover how stem cells are being used to treat leukemia and other blood disorders on our Toward Treatments page.

“We are excited to be working with CCRM to launch this new IRICoR spin-off company located in Montréal, which includes novel stem cell-expanding molecules that were initially identified and funded at IRIC via an early-stage investment from IRICoR,” Michel Bouvier, CEO of IRICoR, said in the IRIC press release.

ExCellThera is based on novel proprietary intellectual property related to the expansion of stem cells developed by two members of our Foundation’s Science Leadership Council: Dr. Guy Sauvageau, Scientific Director & CEO of IRIC, and Dr. Peter Zandstra, Professor at Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, University of Toronto and Chief Scientific Officer of CCRM.

A Phase I and II clinical trial, designed to test the ability of ExCellThera’s stem cell expansion approach, will begin this year at the Maisonneuve-Rosement Hospital in Montreal, and will grow to include Sainte-Justine Hospital and other centres in the near future. The trial will involve up to 25 patients suffering from AML.

Click to read more Close
03
Jun 2015
Share This
0 Comments

James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, left, Sandra Henderson, Senior V-P of BMO Financial Group’s Eastern Ontario Division, and Tim Kluke, President & CEO of the Ottawa Hospital Foundation Credit: Erin McCracken, Ottawa South News

Investing in the future: BMO makes $1-million donation

Posted by

BMO’s  $1-million donation to support stem cell and regenerative medicine research in Canada is “an investment in the future,” says a senior executive with the leading financial institution.…

BMO’s  $1-million donation to support stem cell and regenerative medicine research in Canada is “an investment in the future,” says a senior executive with the leading financial institution.

“As the generations go on, it’s important for us to give back to the people we work with, we live with, who are in our communities,” Sandra Henderson, Senior Vice-President of BMO Financial Group’s Eastern Ontario Division, told Ottawa Community News.

The investment includes a $500,000 donation to the Ottawa Hospital’s Regenerative Medicine Program at the General campus’ Sinclair Centre, and $500,000 to the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, of which $250,000 will go to the hospital’s new research initiatives and $250,000 to other national activities.

“By Canadian standards, that’s probably one of the largest corporate gifts specifically directed to stem cell research and regenerative medicine in the country,” James Price, Foundation’s President & CEO, told Ottawa Community News. “Canada is a leader in stem cell research, just as the Ottawa Hospital is.”

Currently, the Ottawa Hospital’s Regenerative Medicine Program has 250 scientists, research staff and trainees working at the Sinclair Centre for Regenerative Medicine and the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research.

The lab of Dr. Duncan Stewart, Executive Vice-President of Research at the Ottawa Hospital and Senior Scientist of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute’s Regenerative Medicine Program, has been renamed the BMO Financial Group Laboratory in honour of the bank’s financial contribution.

 

Click to read more Close
28
May 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Hitting a nerve: researchers turn blood into neural cells

Posted by

Stem cell researchers from McMaster University have found a way to turn human blood cells into neural cells, opening the door to new approaches to understanding and treating pain.…

Stem cell researchers from McMaster University have found a way to turn human blood cells into neural cells, opening the door to new approaches to understanding and treating pain.

The patented technique, described in a paper published in Cell Reports, involves extracting stem cells from blood and converting them into neural cells — like those found in the brain and the nervous system — over about a month.

“No one has ever done this with adult blood, to make this repertoire of neural cells, “Dr. Mick Bhatia, Director of McMaster University’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, told CTV News.

Dr. Bhatia and his team started working on the project after successfully converting skin cells into blood a few years ago. The researchers thought it would be useful to be able to make other kinds of cells from blood because it is easily accessible, regenerates on its own, and the resulting cells can be personalized.

“And so with this technology, blood could become a building block for neural cells,” Dr. Bhatia explained in CTV’s report.

The findings could lead to treatment advances for those suffering with chronic pain or nerve diseases. The researchers are  hopeful that one day it will be possible to take a blood sample from a patient and quickly produce a million nerve cells. They could then study those cells to better understand why certain people feel pain or why others experience numbness.

New pain medications that would specifically target neural cells, rather than just block the perception of pain, might also be developed thanks to the novel technique.”Pain is really poorly understood right now, and the drugs available are not well characterized,” Dr. Bhatia said in the CTV news report. “Most are narcotics and opioids that are addictive and they’re not very specific to the cells you’re trying to target.”

Click to read more Close
14
May 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Vision loss trial cleared in California

Posted by

Millions of people in North America live with varying degrees of irreversible vision loss. Some good news is that a novel stem cell therapy for retinitis pigmentosa (RP), an inherited condition that slowly damages the retina and can result in blindness, has been cleared by the U.S.…

Millions of people in North America live with varying degrees of irreversible vision loss. Some good news is that a novel stem cell therapy for retinitis pigmentosa (RP), an inherited condition that slowly damages the retina and can result in blindness, has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to start a Phase I clinical trial.

The therapy for RP, which affects 1 in 3500 Canadians, was developed by Dr. Henry Klassen, Associate Professor at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, UC Irvine School of Medicine, and will consist of injecting patients with stem cells to help replace the cells destroyed by the disease and to save those cells that are not damaged yet.

The goal of the trial, which will involve up to 16 patients, is to evaluate the safety and identify side effects of the treatment. Although it is early to speak about a cure for RP, the researchers are hopeful.

“This milestone is a very important one for our project. It signals a turning point, marking the beginning of the clinical phase of development, and we are all very excited about this project.” said Dr. Klassen in the CIRM press release.

The trial has received almost $20 million in funds from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

“One of the goals of the agency is to provide the support that promising therapies need to progress and ultimately to get into clinical trials in patients. RP affects about 1.5 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of inherited blindness in the developed world. Having an effective treatment for it would transform people’s lives in extraordinary ways.” Jonathan Thomas, Ph.D., J.D., Chair of the Governing Board of the CIRM, said in the CIRM press release.

Click here to discover more about how stem cells are being used to understand and treat eye diseases on our Toward Treatments page.

Click to read more Close
13
May 2015
Share This
0 Comments

The state of regenerative medicine industry: ARM report

Posted by

The Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM), a global advocacy organization active since 2009, has recently published the ARM Quarterly Data Report on the state of regenerative medicine industry.…

The Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM), a global advocacy organization active since 2009, has recently published the ARM Quarterly Data Report on the state of regenerative medicine industry.

The report includes analysis of trends and metrics provided by 580 therapeutic companies worldwide. More than 300 of these companies are located in North America.

“This sector has come off a strong year in 2014 and 2015 is off to an even stronger start. As 2015 continues to unfold, we anticipate more high-value deals, and increased investor and public interest in what advanced therapies can offer.” Patricia Reilly and Nancy Dvorin from Informa Business Intelligence, Pharma and Healthcare, ARM’S data partner, wrote in the report.

Higher investments in advanced therapies are in fact among the major trends of the first quarter of 2015. Currently, 486 clinical trials (phase I, II or III) are underway. More than 1/3 of current clinical trials are in oncology, and more than 1/10 are in the cardiovascular area.

Source: Alliance for Regenerative Medicine

Current Clinical Trials by Therapeutic Category. Source: ARM Quarterly Data Report

Additional ARM reports, released at the end of each quarter of the year, will include updates to the current information. To view and download the Q1 Report click here.

Click to read more Close
05
May 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Dr. Mark Freedman

Beyond damage control: can MS be fixed?

Posted by

When it comes to treating multiple sclerosis (MS), Dr. Mark Freedman would like to move beyond damage control.

“We can limit, to some extent and in some cases completely, the damage,” says Dr.…

When it comes to treating multiple sclerosis (MS), Dr. Mark Freedman would like to move beyond damage control.

“We can limit, to some extent and in some cases completely, the damage,” says Dr. Freedman, a clinician/researcher at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. “But fixing the damage that’s been done? Not yet. “

Fixing the damage done by MS is the ultimate goal of a new $4.2-million clinical trial that Dr. Freedman is co-leading with Dr. James J. Marriott of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.  It’s called MESCAMS (for MEsenchymal Stem cell therapy for CAnadian MS patients).

“The excitement surrounding the MESCAMS has been tremendous,” says Yves Savoie, President and CEO, MS Society of Canada, a major supporter of the clinical trial.  “Not only is Canada fortunate to have two  trial sites in both Ottawa and Winnipeg – accepting a total of 40 Canadian participants – but MESCAMS is also part of a larger international research effort studying mesenchymal stem cells that pools scientific resources and expertise from nine countries. This level of collaboration will yield important answers about the efficacy of cell-based treatments.”

Found mostly in the bone marrow, fatty tissue and cartilage, mesenchymal stem cells have a natural anti-inflammatory effect that makes them an intriguing possibility for treating MS, which occurs when a person’s immune system attacks and inflames the protective sheath (myelin) covering nerves. Myelin damage snags the signals that flow from the brain through the nervous system to the rest of the body.

“These cells possibly will act like anti-inflammatory drugs to control the disease,” says Dr. Freedman. ”But what we’re really looking for is the potential for something to heal up, for a sign that these cells are doing something.  Other people have noted it in the optic nerve system, which is actually an extension of the brain and is affected by MS.”

Readers may be familiar with the story of Jennifer Molson, the Ottawa woman whose MS symptoms were eradicated by a stem cell bone marrow transplant conducted by Dr. Freedman and Dr. Harry Atkins as part of an earlier clinical trial. Each trial participant underwent a harrowing course of chemotherapy that virtually destroyed their immune system before being given a fortified version of their own bone marrow stem cells to rebuild it. With MESCAMS no such chemo bombardment is necessary.

“We don’t exactly know why Jennifer, and others in the trial, recovered. We think the reason is we were able to curb the inflammatory response to the point where the body could heal.  These cells that we’re using (mesenchymal stem cells) have been shown, at least in early studies in humans, to repair — period. But they happen, at the same time, to have an anti-inflammatory effect. So they may be able to accomplish both things together. And without the need of any chemo, there is very little risk to the people taking it.”

The real challenge, says Dr. Freedman, will be measuring — and scientifically documenting — repair, if it happens. “When was the last time you heard something that could repair things in MS? Nobody’s been able to show it.  So we’re hoping we will be able to see it and measure it. That’s the real goal of this study.  If we can all show the same signal through nine or 10 sites around the world doing this, then we’re going to have the evidence we need to move to the next stage, which is doing this en masse with people who have already acquired damage . That’s what our MS patients are all hoping for.“

However, Dr. Freedman urges caution.  This is an early stage clinical trial. If the mesenchymal stem cells do affect repair, it may be minimal. “The primary outcome is going to be the effect on gadolinium-enhanced lesions in MS as shown by MRI. It will prove whether we have biologically viable cells capable of creating an effect that can be measured in humans.  It may sound trivial, but it’s never been done.”

Editor’s Note: MESCAMS organizers have published a Frequently Asked Questions page about the trial here (http://bit.ly/1ES3jN1).  Full eligibility criteria are available here(https://clinicaltrials.gov/show/NCT02239393).

 

 

Click to read more Close
29
Apr 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Getting ready for Till & McCulloch Meetings 2015

Posted by

After last year’s conference in Ottawa, the Till & McCulloch Meetings are heading to Toronto.

The event — named in honor of Drs.

After last year’s conference in Ottawa, the Till & McCulloch Meetings are heading to Toronto.

The event — named in honor of Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, who proved the existence of stem cells in the early 1960s — brings together Canada’s leading stem cell scientists, clinicians, bioengineers and ethicists, along with representatives from industry, government, health and non-governmental organizations from around the world.

This year’s agenda includes a special session with the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, presented by James Price, Foundation President & CEO, and Dr. Alan Bernstein, Chair of the Board of Directors and President & CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

The Till & McCulloch Meetings, organized by the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, the Stem Cell Network and the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and sponsored in part by the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, will take place at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in Toronto from October 26-28, 2015.

Registration is now open. Click here for more details.

Click to read more Close
24
Apr 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Dr. James Shapiro

A whole new way to treat diabetes?

Posted by

Canadian researchers are getting closer to what could become a new treatment option for type 1 diabetes.

Dr. James Shapiro, Director of the Clinical Islet Transplant Program at the University of Alberta, has recently published a study in Nature Biotechnology describing a novel way of transplanting islet cells from a donor’s pancreas underneath the patient’s skin.…

Canadian researchers are getting closer to what could become a new treatment option for type 1 diabetes.

Dr. James Shapiro, Director of the Clinical Islet Transplant Program at the University of Alberta, has recently published a study in Nature Biotechnology describing a novel way of transplanting islet cells from a donor’s pancreas underneath the patient’s skin.

In 1990s, Dr. Shapiro, one of the world’s top insulin experts, co-developed the Edmonton Protocol to treat diabetes through transplantation of islet cells into the patient’s liver. Although the technique offered hope at first, Dr. Shapiro realized the liver wasn’t the ideal site for transplantation as most of the cells were quickly destroyed.

“Until now it has been nearly impossible for transplanted cells to function reliably when placed beneath the skin,” says Dr. Shapiro in a University of Alberta article published this week. “In these studies, we have harnessed the body’s natural ability to respond to a foreign body by growing new enriching blood vessels. By controlling this reaction, we have successfully and reliably reversed diabetes in our preclinical models.”

The new approach is an evolution of the Protocol, and according to Dr. Shapiro it could soon become a new standard for treatment—not only in diabetes, but in other diseases as well.

“For any area of regenerative medicine that requires replacing old cells with new — this opens up an incredible future possibility for successful engraftment beneath the skin.” says Dr. Shapiro.

Dr. Shapiro is also involved in other studies for treatment of type 1 diabetes. He is a scientific advisor for ViaCyte, the American company that is conducting a new clinical trial for diabetes with one or more sites to be launched in Canada. Click here to read more about it.

Click to read more Close
16
Apr 2015
Share This
2 Comments

STEMCELL Technologies — Life Sciences Company of the Year

Posted by

STEMCELL Technologies, the largest biotech company in Canada, will be honoured tonight with the “Life Sciences Company of the Year” award from LifeSciences BC.

STEMCELL Technologies, the largest biotech company in Canada, will be honoured tonight with the “Life Sciences Company of the Year” award from LifeSciences BC.

Founded in 1993 by Dr. Allen Eaves, a Canadian Stem Cell Foundation Director, STEMCELL Technologies is a privately owned biotechnology company that develops specialty cell culture media, cell separation products and ancillary reagents for life science research. The Vancouver-based firm employs some 680 people who manufacture over 2,000 products for scientists in more than 70 countries worldwide.

Each year, a significant portion of STEMCELL’s profits is reinvested in stem cell research — a strong indication of its founder’s belief in the potential of the field.

“Stem cell technology is going to revolutionize medicine; that’s the reality,” says Dr. Eaves, President & CEO. “Medicine will be delivered by cells and we will be using cells to repair the body. There is this huge potential out there.” Click here to read our full interview with Dr. Eaves.

He also believes that to succeed in delivering new stem treatments, Canada needs the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan. Created by a coalition of scientists, medical doctors, leaders from major health charities, industry experts and philanthropists, the Strategy sets the course for Canada to lead the way in bringing up to 10 breakthrough therapies to the clinic by 2025.

Click to read more Close
07
Apr 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Dr. Molly Shoichet

Dr. Molly Shoichet and the future of regenerative medicine

Posted by

A few weeks ago, the University of Toronto’s Dr. Molly Shoichet was named as one of five recipients of the L’Oreal/UNESCO Women in Science Award.…

A few weeks ago, the University of Toronto’s Dr. Molly Shoichet was named as one of five recipients of the L’Oreal/UNESCO Women in Science Award.

Dr. Shoichet, the first Canadian to claim the prize since 2009, was recognized “for the development of new materials to regenerate damaged nerve tissue and for a new method that can deliver drugs directly to the spinal cord and brain.”

Dr. Shoichet, whose work is mainly focused on drug delivery and stem cell transplantation strategies, shares her excitement about stem cells and the field of regenerative medicine in a video interview with the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM).

“There is so much on the horizon of regenerative medicine that is exciting,” says Dr. Shoichet. “Our lab is really focused on the central nervous system, because there is really nothing apart from rehabilitation for these traumatic diseases like stroke, spinal cord injury and even blindness.”

You can view the other installments in the Regenerative Medicine Leadership Series here.

Click to read more Close
01
Apr 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Our Gairdner Group of Four

Posted by

The news last week that Dr. Janet Rossant had won the 2015 Gairdner Wightman Award should have come as no big surprise.…

The news last week that Dr. Janet Rossant had won the 2015 Gairdner Wightman Award should have come as no big surprise. The head of research at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, Dr. Rossant perfectly fits the profile of the Wightman winner:  a scientist who has demonstrated outstanding national leadership in medicine and medical science.

However, the announcement did give us another reason to celebrate:  it brought the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Gairdner Award connections to four — so far.

Janet Rossant (CSCF)Dr. Rossant (1) who chairs our Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, has led the way in crafting Canada’s public policy regarding stem cell research and is the immediate Past President of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. She also is an articulate advocate for the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action that sets out how Canada can lead the way to deliver five to 10 new stem cell therapies to the clinic within 10 years.  (See the Globe & Mail piece she co-authored here).

With the announcement, Dr. Rossant joins Dr. Alan Bernstein (2), Chair of our Board of Directors, as a fellow Gairdner Wightman winner.  Dr. Bernstein, now President & CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, won the Wightman in 2008 for his “outstanding contribution to Canadian health research as a scientist, research institute director and as the inaugural President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.”

Bernstein CroppedDr. Bernstein’s stem cell connection goes all the way back to his PhD studies with Dr. Jim Till, co-discoverer of stem cells (with Dr. Ernest McCulloch) in the late 1960s/early 1970s at the Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI). Dr. Till mentored Dr. Bernstein in much the same way that Dr. Bernstein encouraged Dr. Rossant when she came to work at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute (now the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute) at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 1985.

Jim TillDr. Till (3) is a Gairdner International Award winner, having picked up the prize with Dr. McCulloch back in 1969. His connection to the Foundation? He was original member of the Board of Directors when the Foundation began life in 2006 and has been a trusted advisor ever since.  In fact, his “Spleen Team” jersey, from when he led the OCI squad that unveiled the mysteries of hematopoietic stem cells, hangs in a place of honour in the Foundation’s office in Ottawa.

sam weissThen there is Dr. Samuel Weiss (4), who won his Canada Gairdner International Award in 2008 in large part for his 1992 discovery of neural stem cells in the brains of adult mammals, which sparked new approaches for brain cell replacement and repair. Dr. Weiss, who leads the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary, preceded Dr. Rossant as Chair of our Science Leadership Council and was also a member of the Foundation’s Board.

Quite honestly, we’re proud to be associated with these outstanding scientists. That they have chosen to help us as we advocate for the advancement of stem cell research and development to deliver safe, new and effective treatments for an array of diseases is truly inspiring. And we look forward to finding out who will be (5).

 

Click to read more Close
31
Mar 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Liver failure: the promise of stem cells

Posted by

As March makes its exit — like a lion in some regions, like a lamb in others — it’s good to remember that it marked “Liver Health Month,”an initiative to raise awareness of liver diseases.…

As March makes its exit — like a lion in some regions, like a lamb in others — it’s good to remember that it marked “Liver Health Month,”an initiative to raise awareness of liver diseases. Each year the  Canadian Liver Foundation, a national not-for-profit organization established in 1969 to support liver research and education, devotes this month to spreading information about liver health to Canadians.

Liver is the largest solid organ and the biggest reservoir of blood in the body, critical for maintaining overall health. It metabolizes nutrients, removes waste products, filters toxic substances and drugs, maintains the levels of blood sugar, fat and hormones and participates in immune responses.

Hepatocytes are the predominant cell type in the liver and they perform most of its functions. However, their short lifespan requires the liver to constantly regenerate itself in order to remain healthy.

It is estimated that one in 10 Canadians, or around 3 million people, have some form of liver disease. There are over 100 different kinds of liver diseases and the most common forms are viral hepatitis, fatty liver disease and liver cancer. Causes range from alcohol consumption, viruses, obesity, genetics, autoimmune diseases, drugs, toxins.

Liver disease can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be vague or non-existent until the disease has advanced. Although the liver can continue to function despite a great deal of abuse, once it reaches a state of failure the damage is irreversible.

Currently, the only available treatment is transplantation, but the demand for organs is so high that many people with liver failure die before receiving a donation. While there is no stem cell treatment for liver failure as of yet, stem cells could one day represent a reliable option. Many research teams around the globe are working on developing effective stem cell therapies for liver failure.

In 2013, researchers from Yokohama City University in Japan demonstrated they could produce liver buds, or miniature precursors to human livers, by using stem cells taken from bone marrow, blood vessels and skin cells. When the researchers implanted the buds into the brains of mice, they observed that they connected with the mouse’s blood system. After a couple of months the buds looked and acted like liver and produced liver-specific proteins.

The scientists believe the research is promising, but challenging and it will take to translate this work into a way of growing new livers for patients.

“Testing whether liver buds could help sick patients is years away,” said Professor Takanori Takebe, who led the researchin Nature. “Apart from the need for longer-term experiments in animals, it is not yet possible to make liver buds in quantities sufficient for human transplantation.”

In the meantime, you can find more information about stem cells and liver failure in our Toward Treatments section. Click here to read more.

Click to read more Close
25
Mar 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Dr. Janet Rossant

Congratulations to Janet Rossant — Gairdner Wightman winner

Posted by

Today we are delighted to congratulate Dr. Janet Rossant on the announcement of her winning the 2015 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award for outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science in Canada.

Today we are delighted to congratulate Dr. Janet Rossant on the announcement of her winning the 2015 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award for outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science in Canada.

“Janet Rossant is not only an internationally acclaimed stem cell scientist, she has been a powerful force in moving the field forward and a leader in developing the roadmap for the future of our sector: the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy and Action Plan,” said James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. “She has played a key role in ensuring that Canada stands among the top nations in the world in one of the most exciting and promising areas of medical research — stem cells.”

Dr. Rossant, who chairs the CSCF’s Science Leadership Council, was a member of the Foundation-led Joint Strategy Working Group that developed the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan. Based on a private/public partnership, it sets out how Canada can lead the way to deliver five to 10 new stem cell therapies to the clinic within 10 years.

“Her efforts have been invaluable,” said Mr. Price, who co-authored a Globe & Mail opinion piece with Dr. Rossant in February that illustrated how the Strategy could position Canada as an international centre for conducting safe, high-quality clinical trials for new stem cell treatments. “No one knows the field — and the remarkable things it can do — better than Janet. We are deeply proud of her accomplishments, and are thrilled for her success and the recognition she has received today.”

In a Foundation-produced video, Dr. Rossant declares that, “Research can’t stand still. Scientific research is always moving forward. We are at an incredibly exciting time in science when we can understand the underpinnings of disease and begin to translate that into new diagnoses and therapies.”

Quick Facts

  • The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan calls for a $1.5-billion public-private investment over 10 years, including a $50-million scaled annual average commitment by the Government of Canada.
  • The Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine estimates the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan could generate more than 12,000 jobs for Canadians via the growth of existing companies and the development of new enterprises that reach global markets.
  • In 2013, more than $200 billion was spent on health care in Canada. Two thirds of that money was used to treat incurable diseases. Stem cell research, cell therapy and regenerative medicine are working towards treatment options for these diseases.
Click to read more Close
17
Mar 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Tricky science made simple, final chapter

Posted by

This week is Brain Awareness Week, a global initiative to raise awareness of the progress being made in brain research.…

This week is Brain Awareness Week, a global initiative to raise awareness of the progress being made in brain research.

To mark the occasion, we are unveiling a new video in our Stem Cell Shorts series that will come as good news to anyone who has ever struggled to understand the complexity of the human nervous system. It is a great resource for non-scientists to quickly grasp how the nervous system works and how stem cells can improve its functions.

“What is a neural stem cell?” is the final episode of the series launched in fall 2013 and produced by Ben Paylor, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia, and Dr. Mike Long, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto.

The last chapter is narrated by Dr. Sam Weiss, director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary and the scientist who discovered neural stem cells in 1992. His discovery led to an understanding of how stem cells stimulate neural development throughout our lives. Currently, Dr. Weiss is leading research in neural stem cell biology with the ultimate goal of advancing patient care, prevention, treatment and management of devastating conditions, such as brain tumours, stroke and multiple sclerosis.

The remarkable video animation project includes seven other subjects:

  • “What is a stem cell?” narrated by Dr. Jim Till;
  •  “What are embryonic stem cells?” narrated by Dr. Janet Rossant;
  • “What are induced pluripotent stem cells?” narrated by Dr. Mick Bhatia;
  • “What is stem cell tourism?” narrated by Prof. Timothy Caulfield;
  • “What is a cancer stem cell?” narrated by Dr. John Dick;
  • “What is a retinal stem cell?” narrated by Dr. Derek van der Kooy; and
  • :What is a hematopoietic stem cell?” narrated by Dr. Connie Eaves

The Foundation joined the Stem Cell Network in funding the production of the Phase 2 of the project, which included five animated installments.

We hope you enjoy the final chapter of the series. And for those who missed some earlier episodes, they are available here.

Click to read more Close
02
Mar 2015
Share This
0 Comments

What’s Sam Weiss excited about?

Posted by

Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine.

Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine. Where do they see things going? What are they excited about? For today’s final instalment, we interviewed Dr. Samuel Weiss is a Professor in the Cumming School of Medicine’s Departments of Cell Biology and Anatomy and Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Calgary and Director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute. In 1992, he discovered adult neural stem cells. He shared his thoughts on cancer stem cells (cells that can initiate tumours and that cause cancer to return) and advances being made in brain cancer research. 

There is a significant move afoot to apply the knowledge we have gained to understand the stem cell biology of brain tumours. We learned a lot about normal neural stem cells and then there was a big flurry after brain tumour stem cells were identified (in 2004) by Peter Dirks (University of Toronto) and others. Now we’re entering an era of greater sophistication in terms of understanding of the various cell types that make up a brain tumour, because there is still a need to fundamentally understand how a very small number of cells, even a single cell, can end up producing a massive tumour.

That’s part of where I’m going. My lab, working with many others, has also been involved in the development and testing of new compounds. And we have the first compound that we identified in the lab as being very powerful in terms of its ability to block brain tumour initiating cells in cell culture — as well as prolonging survival of xenografted animals – is moving into a clinical trial.

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, what’s exciting is that we published the paper in Clinical Cancer Research in October and simultaneously announced that AstraZeneca had agreed to test it in the clinic — and in Canada first. It will be led out of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre by Dr. Warren Mason. We are able to collapse the timeframe from publishing our results to testing them in the clinic to less than a year. It shows that we are developing a strategy, based on the science and based on cancer stem cells, to help accelerate testing of new compounds for cancer.

We all know that many compounds need to be tested before a new one is likely to have a big impact, especially in a heterogeneous disease like brain cancer, but at the very least, the approach, which was championed initially by Dr. David Kaplan (The Hospital for Sick Children) through a Stem Cell Network grant and then by the Terry Fox Research Institute, has allowed us to begin bringing compounds to the clinic in a timely fashion.

That’s a predictor of some of the things to come. In fact, we have another (compound) that is very close. We’re working with a biotech company in the States and finalizing the last series of experiments.  We will be meeting with them in Chicago in June at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meetings and there may be a second compound in the clinic before the end of the year.

Five to 10 years ago, you would never have suggested that laboratory-based results would be moving from the lab to clinical testing in months rather than years.

Click to read more Close
27
Feb 2015
Share This
0 Comments

What is Denis-Claude Roy excited about?

Posted by

Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine.

Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine. Where do they see things going? What are they excited about? For today’s instalment, we interviewed Dr. Denis-Claude Roy, Director of the Centre de recherche de l’Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont and a full professor at the Université de Montréal. Dr. Roy is Chief Executive Officer of CellCAN Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network. Asked about what he sees developing in the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine he provided the following highlights of his work and others.

In our work with blood-based cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, we have developed a protocol for stem cell transplantation for people who don’t have a matched donor. We are able to do mismatched stem cell transplants, or what’s called haploidentical stem cell transplantation. This means that in place of being fully compatible (with the donor cells), a patient can be 50% compatible and still get a transplant.

Normally (such a transplant) would kill the patient, but we’ve developed a strategy to eliminate the cells that cause Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD) and attack the patient. GVHD is probably the biggest problem associated with stem cell transplantation. Instead of having the patient develop GVHD or treating the patient with drugs to prevent it from occurring, we treat the cells in the lab and eliminate those that cause GVHD. So, we’re able to do stem cell transplants without immune suppression and the patient won’t have to take immuno-suppressor drugs for the rest of their lives.

We’re very excited about this. Our first study included 19 patients and we have had extremely good results. The patients had few infections and low relapse rates. A second study on another 23 patients, part of an international study, is currently led by our centre. To date, patients are again doing very well.

We’re also starting a clinical trial using a molecule called UM171 that was developed by Dr. Guy Sauvageau (Université de Montréal) to expand umbilical cord blood stem cells while maintaining their properties. Right now, donated umbilical cords have too few cells to treat adults. One donation provides enough cells to treat a child, but not enough for a normal size adult. Currently for an adult, we have to use two donations and that presents immune issues and is very expensive. We want to ramp up the number of stem cells from umbilical cord donations for those patients that have a match but not enough cells. We can grow the cells in the lab to have enough for the transplant.

This will allow us to select from our larger pool of umbilical cord blood donations and therefore improve the match, which should result in decreasing the number of complications associated with transplants and make it possible for more people to get them. This could also accelerate engraftment, shortening the time for the cells to engraft, which would decrease risk associated with the procedure.

The the use of stem cells in cardiac treatments is also starting to gather momentum. Dr. Duncan Stewart (University of Ottawa) has a trial (using genetically modified stems to repair heart damage) that is going very well. I am also working with Dr. Nicolas Noiseux (Université de Montréal) on activating stem cells before they are infused into the heart. He is studying a number of molecules to activate the cells before they are injected. The idea is to repair the hearts of patients who have poor cardiac function.

We will also be starting a trial using cells from the immune system to target leukemia. They are specific, acting like missiles, which will select and kill leukemia cells. Dr Claude Perreault (Université de Montréal) is developing a series of new targets. A new clinical trial is likely to start in the Fall.

Click to read more Close
26
Feb 2015
Share This
0 Comments

McLellan named chancellor of Dalhousie University

Posted by

When the Hon. A. Anne McLellan takes up her appointment as the seventh chancellor of Dalhousie University in May, she will be returning to the school that prepared to become an outstanding academic, a leading lawyer and a widely respected political figure.…

When the Hon. A. Anne McLellan takes up her appointment as the seventh chancellor of Dalhousie University in May, she will be returning to the school that prepared to become an outstanding academic, a leading lawyer and a widely respected political figure.

“I’m deeply honoured,” said Ms. McLellan in the University’s press release. “Dalhousie has been such an important part of my life, and the opportunity to give back as chancellor is one I would have never expected, but it’s a great privilege.” Ms McLellan studied arts and then law at Dal in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A member of our Foundation’s Board of Directors, Ms. McLellan  works with the national law firm Bennett Jones LLP and is Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the University of Alberta in the Alberta Institute for American Studies. Prior to that, she held the positions of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. She also served as Minister of Health, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Minister of Natural Resources and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians. Before her time in  politics, Ms. McLellan was a law professor, first at the University of New Brunswick and then the University of Alberta.

“I hope that I’m able to bring the perspective of a woman who has had the opportunity of a first-class education, and who then was able to use that education in ways that have contributed to our collective well-being.” said Ms. McLellan.

 

Click to read more Close
25
Feb 2015
Share This
0 Comments

What is Connie Eaves excited about?

Posted by

Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine.

Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine. Where do they see things going? What are they excited about? For today’s instalment, we interviewed Dr. Connie J. Eaves is a Distinguished Scientist at Vancouver’s Terry Fox Laboratory, which she co-founded. A Professor of Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia, she is world-renowned for her pioneering research in basic blood stem cell biology, which led to new treatments for leukemia. She also isolated breast stem cells and is a leading thinker in the field of breast cancer. Here’s what she’s excited about in 2015.

I was a co-author of a Nature paper in December that was led by Drs. Samuel Aparcio and Sohrab Shah (University of British Columbia) and described the changing genomic composition of breast cancer xenografts — that is fragments of patients’ breast tumours growing in special transplanted mice that have no immune system.  In such mice, many patients’ tumours can grow as if they were still in the patient. You can thus track how the tumour evolves in relation to the original tumour.

This model has significant implications for developing new ways to treat cancer, because you can use the tumours created in the mice to determine which treatments work best and how that compares to the mutations that were present in cells that disappeared and those that may be unique to the cells that proved resistant. Groups all over the world are trying to use this approach, so we’re excited about that.

My lab has another paper in the works that has to do with making human breast tumours starting with normal human breast tissue. We have developed a protocol in which normally discarded breast tissue samples obtained from women undergoing cosmetic surgery are infected with a mutant cancer-causing gene and then produce tumours when transplanted into immunodeficient mice.

The reason this is extraordinarily exciting is because people have been trying to do this this for years with blood cells and it’s been difficult: you can count on one hand the number of different mutant genes (out of many tried) that can produce a leukemia when put into normal human blood-forming cells.  Indeed, this has been very discouraging in the leukemia field.

The idea is, if you could study the early events that cause leukemia or breast cancer, then you would be able to look into the first changes that occur and get a handle on those. You could then look for those changes in a patient’s samples and try to target them specifically.  Since they are the first events, they are likely going to be in every daughter tumour cell in that patient and hence better (more universal) targets.

One of the problems with treating many tumours is their genetic instability, which leads to the genesis of a tremendous diversity of subclones of cells carrying additional new mutations. Thus when you use a treatment strategy that can kill a dominant clone, there may be another 100 subclones that are not eliminated lurking at lower levels that then regrow.  That is why the idea of understanding how a tumour starts to develop from its earliest stages is so captivating.  Being able to do this with human breast tissue was unexpected and opens the door to all sorts of experiments. So we’re very excited about this new line of work.

Click to read more Close
24
Feb 2015
Share This
1 Comment

Cystic Fibrosis: the promise of stem cells

Posted by

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is the most common fatal genetic disease affecting Canadian children and young adults. One in every 3,600 children born in Canada has CF, which occurs when a child inherits two abnormal genes, one from each parent.…

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is the most common fatal genetic disease affecting Canadian children and young adults. One in every 3,600 children born in Canada has CF, which occurs when a child inherits two abnormal genes, one from each parent. Approximately, one in 25 Canadians carry an abnormal version of the gene responsible for CF. Carriers do not have CF, nor do they exhibit any of the symptoms of the disease.

Over 4,000 Canadians live with CF, which affects their lungs and digestive system, where the linings of these vital organs become clogged with thick mucus. This can lead to chest infections, persistent cough, wheezing and shortness of breath, bowel disturbances, weight loss or failure to gain weight, salty tasting sweat, infertility in men and decreased fertility in women.

The median age of survival for Canadians with CF was 50.9 years in 2013, over 25 years higher than it was in the early 1980s. However, the complications of ongoing infections and inflammation in the lungs, which eventually lead to loss of lung function, cause death in the majority of people with CF. Other frequent complications include difficulty in digesting fats and proteins and vitamin deficiencies due to loss of pancreatic enzymes.

While there is no cure for CF, remarkable progress in CF research has been made since 1989, when Canadian researchers at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) discovered the gene responsible for CF — CFTR.

“Over the past decade there has been tremendous progress with regard to therapy discovery conducted using generic cells induced to possess a particular CF mutant protein,” Dr. Christine Bear, Senior Scientist and Co-Director of the CF Centre at SickKids, said in a press release. “While this approach led to the discovery of a drug called Kalydeco, we believe that a new discovery strategy is needed during the upcoming 10 years to find the next generation of therapies effective in treating all CF patients.”

Dr. Christine Bear

Dr. Christine Bear

Kalydeco is also a very expensive medication, one that is not covered by all provinces in Canada. Also, because of different CFTR mutations and the uniqueness of each patient, Kalydeco is only effective for a small population of those with CF.  “While this is a big step for CF, there is still much work to be done,” added Dr Bear.

Stem cells may provide some of the answers Dr. Bear and others are searching for. Cystic Fibrosis Canada, a national charitable not-for-profit corporation established in 1960 to find a cure or control for CF, recently funded Dr. Bear and her team at SickKids for their project, ‘Individualizing cystic fibrosis therapy.’

Dr. Bear’s lab is developing a resource of induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells from a cohort of patients with CF to represent the Canadian patient population. Patient-specific iPS cells will then be differentiated into lung epithelium and used to assess, explain and eventually predict individual specific responses to emerging therapies.

The approach, the first of its kind in Canada, will enable the future implementation of techniques to monitor functional correction of CFTR — techniques that are essential for pre-clinical trials comparing patient-specific responses to CF therapies and the identification of the best treatment for each CF patient.

While the work is in the early stages, it does offer hope that new approaches defeating CF can be made available some day soon.

Click to read more Close
23
Feb 2015
Share This
0 Comments

‘Let’s get this done’

Posted by

The Globe and Mail  today features an editorial pages article about the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan.

James Price, Foundation’s President and CEO, and Dr.

The Globe and Mail  today features an editorial pages article about the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan.

James Price, Foundation’s President and CEO, and Dr. Janet Rossant, Interim Director of the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and immediate past president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, co-authored the article, headlined ‘Make Canada a magnet for stem cell trials’. Exploring the impact of experimental stem cell treatments abroad, the piece makes the case for Canada to build on its expertise in stem cell research and development to become the location of choice for high quality clinical trials.

“The real impact of many of the experimental stem cell treatments offered abroad is a question mark.” said the authors. “A better solution is made-in-Canada treatments. Give Canadians access to safe, cutting-edge and rigorously reviewed stem cell clinical trials here in Canada. Once fully proven, these treatments would be available across the country.” they added.

canada stem cells

Although several stem cell-related clinical trials are already under way in Canada (you can read about the recent announcement of a new stem cell trial for MS on our blog), there is the potential to do more.The Strategy & Action Plan will see Canada lead the way to bringing five to 10 new safe and proven therapies to the clinic within 10 years.

“Canadians should not need to travel abroad where experimental treatments are unproven and could carry serious health risks. We all want our loved ones to have access to the best care available when they need it. So let’s get this done.”

You can read the full version of the Globe and Mail article here.

Click to read more Close
20
Feb 2015
Share This
0 Comments
janet rossant rock star video3

What’s Janet Rossant excited about?

Posted by

Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine.

Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine. Where do they see things going? What are they excited about? For today’s premier instalment, we interviewed Dr. Janet Rossant, Chief of Research and a Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and immediate past president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. She provided the following highlights.

When I look broadly, I’m seeing a lot of excitement about being able to use stem cells to model human disease. Here in Toronto, we’ve made induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from patients with cystic fibrosis, cardiac diseases and autism. We’re beginning to use those cells to differentiate them into different cell types to study the diseases in a Petri dish.  All of that is moving forward. We’re going to see more and more of that.

I think, though, that the area to watch is a little bit more than just taking iPS cells and growing them in a Petri dish in a flat culture but instead growing cells and making little organs or “organoids.” We’ve seen over the last year people making little organoids in a dish: gut organoids, stomach organoids. I’m expecting to see papers on lung organoids.  This means we will be able to study diseases in new ways and use these organoids for doing drug screening.

We’re also seeing the first trials (by Viacyte, a California-based cell-therapy company) going forward with pancreatic progenitor cells for treating type 1 diabetes. We probably won’t get full results, because these are all Phase 1 trials, but we’re going to get some idea of the survival and effectiveness in a relatively short period of time.  Canada will be one of the sites for that trial; Dr. James Shapiro (University of Alberta) is involved.

There have been good Canadian contributions to that. The Viacyte trial is done with pancreatic progenitors that will mature and make the right insulin producing cells. Other people feel you’d be better off starting with the insulin-producing cells and using those directly.  A recent paper from Dr. Tim Kieffer (University of British Columbia) shows really good advances in generating functional beta cells. It gives you a lot of hope that this kind of trial, which is an early one, will be rapidly replaced by better trials and better cells. Dr. Cristina Nostro (University of Toronto) is also moving very fast at getting better and better pancreatic islet cells.

The technology that everybody is jumping on is genome editing.  Now you can think not only about fixing people with stem cells, but you can think about fixing the genetic defects in people’s stem cells before you put them back. Certainly here at SickKids there are a number of people thinking in the very short-term mode about how they might translate that into gene therapy approaches to genetic diseases.

The expanded use of cell-based therapies — whether they are stem cells or other cells — is also having an impact. If we think about immunotherapy for cancer, we’re using either molecules or modified T-cells.  We’re seeing cell-based therapies of all sorts coming forward.

We’re seeing expanded use of bone marrow transplantation for a wider range of autoimmune diseases.The trials that Dr. Harry Atkins (University of Ottawa) and others are doing on MS — those kinds of approaches are going to get more and more refined as we go forward.

Cardiac care is another area where we’re seeing clinical trials with many kinds of cells and molecules to treat heart disease. I think we’re going to see small incremental advances. A big advance has to come if we can actually fix the heart muscle.  I know Dr. Gordon Keller (University of Toronto) and his colleagues are pushing very hard in that direction to try to move from cells in culture to bioengineered matrices of cells that you could think about using to replace damaged parts of the heart.  Also, Dr. Michael Fehlings (University of Toronto) is very active in looking at a number of sources of cells that might be able to remyelenate axons in spinal cord repair.

These are all areas to watch in the future — the whole field is moving rapidly forward.

Click to read more Close
19
Feb 2015
Share This
0 Comments

‘All we have to do is get it right’

Posted by

An article about the benefits of the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan is featured in the online version of Policy Options, Canada’s premier public policy journal.…

An article about the benefits of the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan is featured in the online version of Policy Options, Canada’s premier public policy journal.

Titled ‘How Canada can capitalize on its stem cell technology,’ the piece was written by Dr. Alan Bernstein, President and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and Chair of our Foundation’s Board of Directors, Dr. Allen Eaves, President and CEO of STEMCELL Technologies Inc., and James Price, our Foundation’s President and CEO. It illustrates how Canada can lead the way in stem cell science and translate research into five to 10 new therapies over the next 10 years.

“If we get it right, we can reduce human suffering from chronic, debilitating diseases, ease the burden on an overstressed health care system that is currently costing more than $200 billion a year, boost our economy by creating thousands of new high-skill jobs and own an area of advanced technology that was born in Canada.” said the authors.canada stem cells

“Canada’s role in all of this is vital. We have enormous scientific credibility, given that Canadians virtually founded the field: James Till and Ernest McCulloch proved the existence of stem cells more than 50 years ago at the Princess Margaret Hospital and went on to train and inspire subsequent generations of scientists who have positioned Canada at the leading edge.”

The print version of the article will be available soon in Policy Options, March-April 2015 edition.

Click to read more Close
13
Feb 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Tricky science made simple, Valentine’s edition

Posted by

When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of hearts. And when we think of hearts, we think of their life-sustaining role of pumping blood.…

When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of hearts. And when we think of hearts, we think of their life-sustaining role of pumping blood. But where does that blood come from? How does it get made?

A great resource to find answers to those questions and understand the role of stem cells in blood formation is now available. “What is a hematopoietic stem cell?” narrated by Dr. Connie Eaves is the latest video in Stem Cell Shorts series that explains how hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) produce new blood cells.

Contained in the bone marrow, HSCs can produce new blood cells or regenerate the blood production system. In fact, bone marrow transplants have treated patients with a variety of blood cancers and disorders, including multiple myeloma, leukemia and lymphoma for decades.

Dr. Eaves, a professor in the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia, is a leader in the field of hematopoietic stem cell biology. Her work has led to advances in treatment for leukemia. Currently, she is researching the unique properties of normal and cancerous stem cells in a variety of tissues to improve treatments for breast cancer and leukemia.

The new video, produced by Ben Paylor, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia, and Dr. Mike Long, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, is co-sponsored by the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation and the Stem Cell Network.

All the videos — including “What is a stem cell?” narrated by Dr. Jim Till, “What are embryonic stem cells?” voiced by Dr. Janet Rossant, “What are induced pluripotent stem cells?” narrated by Dr. Mick Bhatia, “What is stem cell tourism?” voiced by Prof. Timothy Caulfield, “What is a cancer stem cell?” narrated by Dr. John Dick, “What is a retinal stem cell?” voiced by Dr. Derek van der Kooy and “What is a hematopoietic stem cell?”  – are now available on the Foundation’s You Tube channel. Click here to view them.

The final instalment of the series,“What is a neural stem cell?” narrated by Dr. Sam Weiss, will be released soon. Stay tuned!

Click to read more Close
04
Feb 2015
Share This
0 Comments

‘Cancer is not beyond us’

Posted by

Today is World Cancer Day. Under the tagline “Not beyond us,” the campaign’s goal is to raise awareness about the leading cause of death in Canada.…

Today is World Cancer Day. Under the tagline “Not beyond us,” the campaign’s goal is to raise awareness about the leading cause of death in Canada. Cancer is responsible for 30% of all deaths.

This year’s global campaign encourages prevention, early detection, treatment and care. Its message is a simple one: solutions to fight cancer are within our reach.

Stem cells represent a valid treatment option for certain types of blood cancers and solid tumours, and there is hope that more stem cell therapies for cancer will be available in the near future.blood

Canadian scientists are at the forefront of cancer research.  One of the major contributions to the field comes from Dr. John Dick, senior scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Toronto. He was the first to isolate cancer stem cells — in leukemia in 1994 and in colon cancer in 2007. Recently, he and his team found a way to disarm a gene called BMI-1 that regulates colorectal cancer stem cells.

But there is potential to do more. The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, could lead to novel treatments for cancer. In fact, the goal of the Strategy is for Canada to lead the way in delivering five to 10 safe and effective treatments for chronic diseases within 10 years.

By making stem cell research a national priority Canada has the potential to show that cancer is “not beyond us.”

 

Click to read more Close
01
Feb 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Dr. Mick Bhatia

Dr. Mick Bhatia puts Howe case into perspective on Day 6

Posted by

Dr. Mick Bhatia, Director of McMaster University’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, was the featured guest on CBC Radio’s Day 6 program on Saturday morning as it delved into the controversial subject of stem cell tourism.…

Dr. Mick Bhatia, Director of McMaster University’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, was the featured guest on CBC Radio’s Day 6 program on Saturday morning as it delved into the controversial subject of stem cell tourism.

Host Brent Bambury interviewed Dr. Bhatia, a member of our Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, to get his expert perspective on stroke survivor Gordie Howe’s so-called “miraculous” recovery after he travelled to Tijuana for an experimental treatment.

Along with the high costs people often pay for unproven therapies that often do not produce results, Dr. Bhatia warned of the physical dangers of untested treatments. He pointed out that unlike a drug that can be discontinued in the event of an adverse effect, “if a cell goes rogue in the body” there is no way of controlling it. “Cells can go anywhere and can grow uncontrollably,” producing tumours.

Foundation CEO & President James Price says Howe’s case underscores the need to implement the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan. “Canada has a world-class stem cell sector and we are poised to bring new treatments to the clinic. It’s about bringing more clinical trials to Canada so that Canadians have early access to therapies that are proven to be safe and effective.”

 

Click to read more Close
30
Jan 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Doubts about Howe’s treatment underscore need for Strategy

Posted by

The experimental stem cell treatment Gordie Howe underwent in Tijuana in December has raised further scientific concerns.

According to a report by Canadian Press health writer Sheryl Ubelacker that was carried online by the Globe and Mail, regenerative medicine experts question whether stem cells are actually responsible for what Howe’s son has called a “miraculous” recovery.…

The experimental stem cell treatment Gordie Howe underwent in Tijuana in December has raised further scientific concerns.

According to a report by Canadian Press health writer Sheryl Ubelacker that was carried online by the Globe and Mail, regenerative medicine experts question whether stem cells are actually responsible for what Howe’s son has called a “miraculous” recovery.

According to Dr. Mick Bhatia, Director of the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute at McMaster University, Howe’s apparent recovery has many unknown factors. “Is this a transient effect, or is it really a perceived or somewhat of a placebo effect and is there something really happening? Scientifically and biologically that is important,” he told CP.

In addition, Dr. Bhatia is concerned that immunosuppression drugs or any other drugs Howe might have taken before the treatment could be showing some of the improvement effects. “We really don’t know.”

Dr. Michael Rudnicki, CEO and Scientific Director of the Stem Cell Network and a member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, told CP  that while he couldn’t speak specifically about Howe’s treatment in Mexico as it’s not clear how much the hockey legend has improved or whether the stem cell treatment he received was responsible, some patients have suffered adverse effects from therapies received at clinics abroad. “There’s real potential for doing harm,” said Dr. Rudnicki. “And a person claiming to get better doesn’t prove anything,” he added.

Although there is currently no stem cell treatment for stroke approved by Health Canada, the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan will lead the way to delivering five to 10 novel treatments for chronic diseases within 10 years.

If Canada makes stem cell research and development a national priority, the Strategy will ultimately ensure the access to stem cell treatments that are proven to be safe and effective.

Click to read more Close
29
Jan 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Canadian researchers unveil stem cell trial for MS

Posted by

A new clinical trial in Ottawa and Winnipeg will investigate the ability of stem cells to suppress inflammation and repair nerve tissue for people with Multiple Sclerosis, researchers announced Thursday.…

A new clinical trial in Ottawa and Winnipeg will investigate the ability of stem cells to suppress inflammation and repair nerve tissue for people with Multiple Sclerosis, researchers announced Thursday.

“The MS Society of Canada is proud to be investing in the first Canadian clinical trial studying the ability of mesenchymal stem cells to treat multiple sclerosis,” Yves Savoie, President and CEO, MS Society of Canada, said in a media release. “As Canada has the highest rate of the MS in the world, we are excited that Canadian researchers are among the leaders in developing a novel and effective cell-based treatment.”

The $4.2-million clinical trial, co-led by the University of Ottawa’s Dr. Mark Freedman and Dr. James J. Marriott of the University of Manitoba, is called MESCAMS (for MEsenchymal Stem cell therapy for CAnadian MS patients). It will involve 40 patients — 20 in each city — who will receive either mesenchymal stem cells extracted from their own bone marrow or a mock solution to see if the effects of the stem cells are real or triggered by a “placebo effect.”

For information about clinical trial eligibility and enrollment, click here.

“This is absolutely the kind of clinical trial that Canadians will see more of with the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan,” said James Price, CEO & President of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. “The Strategy is about bringing more clinical trials to Canada so that Canadians have early access to therapies that are proven to be safe and effective.”

As reported by Elizabeth Payne in the Ottawa Citizen, recent publicity around hockey legend Gordie Howe’s experimental stem cell treatment in Tijuana for stroke has focused attention on a growing international stem cell tourism industry offering unproven, untested therapies. “There is so much noise about stem cells in general and the hype that surrounds them, we are doing this study properly so we can answer the question for once and for all,” Dr. Freedman told the newspaper.

“Canada has a world-class stem cell sector and we are poised to bring new treatments to the clinic,” said Mr. Price.  “That’s why implementing the Action Plan is so important. It will mean that rigorously tested, safe and effective therapies are developed right here at home.”

Readers of this blog may be familiar with the story of Jennifer Molson who took part in a previous stem cell trial in Ottawa conducted by Dr. Freedman and Dr. Harry Atkins.  She is now free from all her previously debilitating MS symptoms. Unlike that study, which involved transplantation of hematopoietic stem cells to re-boot the immune system, there is no requirement for chemotherapy in MESCAMS.

The MESCAMS trial is part of a larger, international research effort led by Dr. Freedman and Dr.  Antonio Uccelli at the University of Genoa in Italy. The international effort links researchers from nine countries who are undertaking parallel research.

Funding for the trial, announced by the MS Society of Canada and the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation, is also being provided by Research Manitoba and A&W Food Services of Canada

 

Click to read more Close
28
Jan 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Joseph Rotman

A tribute to Joseph Rotman — good friend, great Canadian

Posted by

It was with much sadness that we learned of the death of Joseph Rotman, an outstanding businessman, philosopher and philanthropist who was an inspiration and advisor in the formative years of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.…

It was with much sadness that we learned of the death of Joseph Rotman, an outstanding businessman, philosopher and philanthropist who was an inspiration and advisor in the formative years of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

“He was a gentleman, a thoughtful, respectful leader who always committed as much in expert advice as he did in l financial support,” said James Price, President & CEO of the Foundation. “He always saw the long term, looked at the big picture. The guidance and counsel he provided, especially in our early formative days, made a lasting imprint on the Foundation.”

At the time of his death on Tuesday at age 80, Mr. Rotman was Chancellor at Western University, where the Rotman Institute of Philosophy is named after him, as is the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.  He was also chair of the Canada Council for the Arts and served on the boards of many major Canadian corporations.

Mr. Rotman said his philosophy studies at Western, undertaken after his application to the U of T’s commerce program was turned down, changed his life forever.  “I can honestly say I would not have had the success I have had without that philosophy training,” he is quoted as saying in Western University’s tribute.

At age 60, after a successful career as an oil trader, merchant banker and investor, Mr. Rotman turned his attention to public service, although, as the Globe and Mail reported, he “made large donations throughout his lifetime to support education, innovation and research, and the arts community.”

“My father taught me that the most powerful way to inspire others to give is for them to see people giving in their community,” he told Western. “He taught his children, and lived his life, on the belief that writing the cheque was the easy part. It is the giving of one’s time and ability that is more difficult.”

A tremendous supporter of — and advocate for — Canadian health research,  Mr. Rotman served on the governing council of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Stem Cell Network’s board of directors and helped get Aggregate Therapeutics up and running.  He chaired the board the Ontario Brain Institute and helped fund the Rotman Research Institute at the University of Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences centre.  He was a director of Toronto’s Medical and Related Sciences (MaRS) Discovery District.

“He was always willing to offer his help, his support and his advice,” said Mr. Price. “We have lost a great man and a true friend of the Foundation.”

 

Click to read more Close
21
Jan 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Toronto MDs ‘put skin in the game’ to try to cure arthritis

Posted by

Physicians at Toronto’s University Health Network have tapped their own savings to start the first North American stem cell trial for osteoarthritis.…

Physicians at Toronto’s University Health Network have tapped their own savings to start the first North American stem cell trial for osteoarthritis.

The trial, part of the UHN’s Arthritis Program, will involve 12 patients between the ages of 40 and 65 with moderate to severe osteoarthritis in their knees. Bone marrow extracted from the back of their hips will be used as a source of mesenchymal stromal cells, which UHN scientists will grow in an incubator for four to six weeks and inject into the patients’ knees.

The ultimate goal is to cure arthritis, which affects about 4.6 million Canadians and has a huge impact on the Canadian economy in terms of health care costs. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis, which can affect people of any age and ethnicity. Visit our Toward Treatments page to learn more about the disease and the stem cell research now underway to combat it.

To kick-start the network’s trial, 10 orthopedic surgeons at UHN’s Toronto Western site donated a total of $1.25-million of their own money over five years.

“We felt very strongly that we had to have our own commitment beyond just the time and effort we would all have to put in,” Dr. Nizar Mahomed, director of the Arthritis Program and one of the surgeons who donated $125,000 over five, years told Kelly Grant of the Globe and Mail. “We needed to make a commitment of actual dollars and put skin in the game.”

The doctors’ decision to start the funding campaign, which has now raised around $38 million thanks to other private gifts, was driven by the fact that landing Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) public grant funding has become an increasingly competitive process. As reported in the Globe and Mail, the success rate for applications to CIHR fell to 18% for 2014-2015, down from 33% less than a decade earlier.

But the philanthropic initiative is just the initial step. “The goal here is not to rely purely on philanthropic funding for the research program, but to get pilot data to then be able to prove to CIHR that what we’re proposing is going to be effective,” Dr. Mahomed told the Globe and Mail.

The UHN initiative illustrates a creative solution to a serious problem. While Canada is a world leader in stem cells, Canadian researchers often face challenges translating their discoveries into new therapies and treatments that can be tested through clinical trials. To pave the way for that to happen, the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, developed by a coalition of researchers, medical professionals, health charities and business leaders, calls for a $1.5-billion private/public investment in stem cell research and development over 10 years. Its goal is for Canada to lead the way in delivering five to 10 safe and effective treatments for chronic diseases within 10 years.

Click to read more Close
20
Jan 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Strategy will streamline the process for clinical trials in Canada

Posted by

The controversy over the experimental stem cell treatment in India grabbed national headlines last week.

Alberta businessman Lee Chuckry told CBC News in Manitoba that he spent $34,000 for a stem cell therapy in India only to find his MS got worse and that “I think it’s just a big fraudulent scam.” However, another MS patient who took part in the experimental trial claims the treatment helped her.…

The controversy over the experimental stem cell treatment in India grabbed national headlines last week.

Alberta businessman Lee Chuckry told CBC News in Manitoba that he spent $34,000 for a stem cell therapy in India only to find his MS got worse and that “I think it’s just a big fraudulent scam.” However, another MS patient who took part in the experimental trial claims the treatment helped her.

The controversy points to the need for Canada to make stem cell research and development a national priority. Always a clear leader in stem cell research, Canada needs a coordinated strategy to bring health benefits for Canadians. The goal of the Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan is for Canada to lead the way in delivering five to 10 safe and effective treatments for chronic diseases within 10 years.

CBC News visited Foundation’s offices in Ottawa to ask President and CEO James Price about the goals of the Strategy. He told the CBC that the Strategy will streamline the process for clinical trials in Canada “so that Canadians that are suffering have access to treatments that are safe and proven to be effective.”

Click to read more Close
15
Jan 2015
Share This
1 Comment

Controversies over stem cell tourism underscore need for Strategy

Posted by

Two days after we blogged about the scientific concerns regarding Gordie Howe’s experimental stem cell treatment in Tijuana, another example of Canadians seeking unproven therapies abroad has hit the media.…

Two days after we blogged about the scientific concerns regarding Gordie Howe’s experimental stem cell treatment in Tijuana, another example of Canadians seeking unproven therapies abroad has hit the media.

Alberta businessman Lee Chuckry told CBC News in Manitoba that he spent $34,000 for a stem cell therapy in India only to find his MS got worse and that “I think it’s just a big fraudulent scam.” MS

Chuckry, who has been battling MS for over a decade, was recruited into the stem cell trial by Doug Broeska, founder of a Winnipeg-based company called Regenetek Research. Broeska recruited patients for the the so-called “liberation” therapy pioneered by Italian researcher Dr. Paolo Zamboni in 2008. The treatment, dubbed chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI, involves widening the patient’s neck veins to improve blood flow. The Indian clinical trial combines CCSVI and the injection of stem cells into the veins and spinal column.

In March 2013, Chuckry flew to India for the trial. “It comes to a point of sort of desperation of trying to find the next thing that might help me, so I’m always on the search for that and I came across this,” he told the CBC. But the attacks came back upon his return home. His attempts to get in touch with Broeska about his new MS symptoms were unsuccessful and he received none of the follow-up common in clinical trials, such as MRIs and physical examinations.

According to the CBC, Broeska claimed on his LinkedIn profile that he earned a PhD at the University of Manitoba, but the university could not confirm that and his LinkedIn profile was down yesterday. The International Cellular Medicine Society, of which Broeska claims to be a member, has no record of his membership. And the ethics committee at India’s Inamdar Hospital in India, where the clinical trial is underway, ordered Broeska to step down as principal investigator because his lack of credentials and follow-up “violated international ethical standards.”

In addition, the Winnipeg Free Press reported this morning that the University of Winnipeg has cancelled a joint project with Regenetek Research.

Over the last few years the much publicized potential of stem cells to treat a variety of diseases has raised hope among patients suffering from conditions for which there currently are no cures. This, in turn, has led some less than scrupulous companies across the globe to capitalize on that hope by marketing costly stem cell therapies that do not have the support of proven clinical evidence. For more information, please visit our Treatment Abroad page.

Both the Howe report and this week’s MS controversy point to the need for Canada to make stem cell research and development a national priority. As James Price, Foundation President and CEO, told the Ottawa Citizen earlier this week, “stem cell tourism should be a wake-up call that Canada needs to prioritize funding for stem cell therapies.” He says it illustrates the need for the Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, with its goal of delivering five to 10 new treatments to clinics within 10 years. He told the paper that the Action Plan will give Canadians confidence “that new therapies are a priority and ultimately, Canadians will have first access to these therapies.”

Indeed, Canada is a world leader in stem cell research. MS survivor Jennifer Molson has been symptom-free for 12 years after receiving a stem cell transplant in a  clinical trial run by Dr. Harry Atkins at the Ottawa Hospital. “I’m living proof of the tremendous potential that exists with stem cell research. I got a second chance at life.” said Molson in declaring her support for the Strategy.

Click to read more Close
13
Jan 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Howe treatment points to need for Strategy

Posted by

The”miraculous” recovery of the Canadian hockey legend Gordie Howe, who suffered a severe stroke in October, made news across the country — and raised many questions.…

The”miraculous” recovery of the Canadian hockey legend Gordie Howe, who suffered a severe stroke in October, made news across the country — and raised many questions.

gordie howe

In mid-December, the star of Detroit Red Wings, received an experimental stem cell treatment in Mexico.

Howe’s son Mark told the Detroit Free Press that his father’s health has significantly improved since then. “His mobility was limited to shuffling his feet forward while sitting in a wheelchair. Within the past few days dad was pushing a cart at a grocery store, and he’s gone to the mall.” he said.

But what is the other side of Howe’s fast resurgence? Was the procedure safe? Does it send out the wrong message?

The scientific validity of the procedure Howe underwent is unclear. According to the newspaper U-T  San Diego Howe received the treatment from Novastem, a Mexican stem cell company, at a clinic in Tijuana. San Diego’s Stemedica, which provided the stem cells, says it follows U.S. law and requires those licensing its stem cells in foreign countries to obey the laws of those countries.

Regardless, over the last years the much publicized potential of stem cells has raised hope among patients suffering from chronic diseases. This, in turn, has led some less than scrupulous companies across the globe to  capitalize on that hope by marketing costly stem cell therapies — often for a wide variety of diseases — without the support of proven clinical evidence.

Canadian scientists and medical ethics experts have warned that this phenomenon of stem cell tourism is on the rise and so are its risks.

As reported in Ottawa Citizen this morning, Howe is one of many Canadians who put themselves in danger by seeking experimental stem cell therapies in countries with softer regulations than in Canada.

“Patients go to places that offer stem cell therapies because they are looking for hope. And stem cells can offer that hope. Unfortunately, very often there is no proven benefit.” Dr. Duncan Stewart, chief executive and financial director of the regenerative medicine program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute told the Ottawa Citizen.

In past posts, Prof. Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta and a member of the Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, has said that unproven treatments create health risks for patients and undermine the credibility of stem cell research.

On this note, James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, told the Citizen  that “stem cell tourism should be a wake-up call that Canada needs to prioritize funding for stem cell therapies.” He says it illustrates the need for the Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan, which has a goal of leading the way to developing five to 10 new treatments to the clinic within 10 years.

As reported in the Citizen story, “A major emphasis of the stem cell Action Plan, which includes public and private funding, is giving Canadians confidence that new therapies are a priority and ultimately, Canadians will have first access to these therapies.”

Click to read more Close
12
Jan 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Diabetes trial cleared by Health Canada

Posted by

Recently, we blogged about the first U.S. patient successfully implanted with a device to treat type 1 diabetes.

Good news is that the VC-01 device will soon be tested on Canadian patients.…

Recently, we blogged about the first U.S. patient successfully implanted with a device to treat type 1 diabetes.

Good news is that the VC-01 device will soon be tested on Canadian patients. After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the testing in August 2014, Health Canada has now cleared the beginning of the Phase 1/2 clinical trial of the VC-01 in Canada.

The device, developed by the American company ViaCyte, is about about half the size of a credit card and can be implanted under the skin from where its progenitor cells secrete insulin whenever blood sugar levels get too high, restoring glycemic harmony. It is being tested at the University of California, San Diego Health System for its safety, tolerability and efficacy in patients with type 1 diabetes who have minimal to no insulin-producing beta cell function.

“The first cohort of patients in this two-cohort dose escalation study of the VC-01 product candidate is currently being assessed at a single site in the United States. Health Canada’s approval represents further validation of the trial and allows us to expand internationally to one or more sites in Canada.” Dr. Paul Laikind, President and CEO of ViaCyte said in the press release.

The location and enrollment start date of the Canadian trial site are yet to be released, but there is already a strong connection between Canada and ViaCyte. Edmonton’s Dr. James Shapiro, Director of the Clinical Islet Transplant Program at the University of Alberta, is a scientific advisor with ViaCyte. In 1990s, Dr. Shapiro co-developed the Edmonton Protocol, a procedure for implementing pancreatic islets for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Although the VC-01 clinical trial is in its early stages and it is unsure whether it will become a safe and efficient treatment option for diabetes, it represents an important step towards a cure for the disease.

Learn here how up to 10 treatments for chronic diseases will be developed over the next 10 years thanks to the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan.

Click to read more Close
08
Jan 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Could we fight obesity with a pill?

Posted by

As the new year rolls out and people struggle to keep their resolutions to shed excess pounds, it’s good to know stem cell scientists are on the case.…

As the new year rolls out and people struggle to keep their resolutions to shed excess pounds, it’s good to know stem cell scientists are on the case.

In December, researchers from Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) showed they are one step closer to creating a pill that could help control obesity.

Obesity occurs when there is an accumulation of body fat in the form of white fat cells. In most cases, it is caused by an excessive intake of calories and inadequate exercise to burn them off. About 6 million Canadians are living with obesity, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and many other severe health conditions.

As described in the report published by Nature Cell Biology, the HSCI team identified two compounds that can turn “bad” white fat cells into “good” brown fat cells. Brown fat cells  burn excess calories and reduce the number of white fat cells in order to generate heat.

While the discovery of the compounds is promising, there could be side effects on the immune system. Dr. Chad Cowan of Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, warned that “if you administered the compounds for a long time, the person taking them could become immune-compromised.” That would make them more prone to infections.

In addition, as Dr. Cowan explained in CTV’s report, “the pill will never replace a healthy lifestyle, but can definitely benefit the patient population at risk.” The pill, in fact, would not be able to bring the benefits of physical exercise.

The transition from this discovery to a safe clinical treatment will likely take many years. However, “a decade of hard, basic science work is paying off,” said to Dr. Cowan,  “The good news/bad news is that science is slow. We thought that working with stem cells would lead to the discovery of new drugs and therapies, and now it’s really starting to happen.”

Discover how the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan will accelerate the development of stem cell treatments for several diseases over the next decade. Click here to find out more.

Click to read more Close
06
Jan 2015
Share This
0 Comments

Researchers find many cancers are ‘bad luck’

Posted by

Credit: C. Tomasetti, B. Vogelstein and illustrator Elizabeth Cook, Johns Hopkins

We all know that unhealthy lifestyles and genetics increase the risk of developing cancer, but a new study suggests that hereditary or environmental factors are not the primary cause of two-thirds of cancer types.…

Credit: C. Tomasetti, B. Vogelstein and illustrator Elizabeth Cook, Johns Hopkins

Credit: C. Tomasetti, B. Vogelstein and illustrator Elizabeth Cook, Johns Hopkins

We all know that unhealthy lifestyles and genetics increase the risk of developing cancer, but a new study suggests that hereditary or environmental factors are not the primary cause of two-thirds of cancer types. Instead, misfortune plays a large part.

According to the study, published in Science and widely reported on in the media, 65% of adult cancers are mainly due to “bad luck,” or random genetic mistakes that occur during the process of cell division in the body.

“All cancers are caused by a combination of bad luck, the environment and heredity, and we’ve created a model that may help quantify how much of these three factors contribute to cancer development,” DrBert Vogelstein of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said in a media release.

Cell division is constantly happening in the body to replace old cells. Sometimes genetic mutations occur during the process. As might be expected, the risk of mistakes increases with the increased number of cell divisions. Drs Vogelstein and Cristian Tomasetti, analyzed the total number of stem cell divisions in 31 tissue types during an individual’s lifetime, excluding breast and prostate cancers. They estimated that 22 cancer types were a result of genetic mutations occurring during the normal cell division process and could not be avoided. These include leukemia, pancreatic, bone, ovarian and brain cancers.

“If two-thirds of cancer incidence across tissues is explained by random DNA mutations that occur when stem cells divide, then we should focus more resources on finding ways to detect such cancers at early, curable stages.” said Dr. Tomasetti in a report by The Telegraph carried in the National Post.

According to the researchers, other cancers, such as colorectal, skin and lung cancers are heavily influenced by genes and exposure to cancerous agents, such as smoking for lung cancer, UV exposure for skin cancer and poor diet for colorectal cancer.

Does the new finding mean we should abandon our efforts to prevent cancer? Not at all.

“Everything we know about altering lifestyles to prevent cancer from the environmental point of view we absolutely need to continue doing. If anything our finding puts more stress on the need to spend even more money on early detection,”  Dr. Tomasetti told Time magazine.

“About half of all cancers can be prevented through healthy living and healthy public policies,” Gillian Bromfield of the Canadian Cancer Society said in a statement. “We encourage Canadians to lower their risk of cancer by not smoking, eating well, being active, sitting less, maintaining a healthy body weight, limiting alcohol, being safe in the sun and avoiding indoor tanning.”

Click to read more Close
Back to Top