2017

06
Dec 2017
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Passing the torch in celebration

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A message from James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

More than a dozen years ago, when the Federal Government was holding hearings to draft what would become the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which regulates the use of stem cells in research, I was part of the management team at the Stem Cell Network.…

A message from James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

More than a dozen years ago, when the Federal Government was holding hearings to draft what would become the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which regulates the use of stem cells in research, I was part of the management team at the Stem Cell Network.

I remember lively conversations with the late and wonderful Drew Lyall, the Network’s Executive Director, in which we agreed something was missing.  Beyond the scientists, we realized, there was no strong, national voice speaking on behalf of Canadians about the importance of these wondrous cells.

Back then, stem cells were much-misunderstood, with research still in very preliminary stages. Along with seeing that the lawmakers got things right, it was imperative to make sure the tremendous therapeutic potential of stem cell research and development be realized through proper funding and widespread public support.

What was needed was an independent organization to carry the banner, especially given that the Network’s funding was due to end within a few years.  And to be honest, Canadian pride also played a big role in establishing the Foundation.  Although stem cells were discovered here, and Canada had done much of the groundbreaking work in the field, few knew about it.

We got good advice from David Hughes, who’d run Habitat for Humanity Canada and was an expert on setting up non-profit organizations that work effectively.  And I consulted with Mark Sarner at Manifest Communications Inc.  Mark is a pioneer in social marketing and believes that it’s more important to further a cause than to add another layer of administration, which fit with our thinking: we didn’t want to create a top-heavy organization; we wanted to start a movement.  We wanted to get all the boats paddling in the same direction — and get more boats on the water.

We created the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation (incorporated as a non-profit charitable organization in 2008 and officially launched two years later) to make stem cell R&D a national priority with the public, private industry and government.  You can see that “start a-movement” thinking reflected in our branding.  We opted not to use an image that looked like it was pulled from a science textbook.  We wanted something aspirational.  We went with several strands of different coloured ribbons, crisscrossing but flowing together.

Our next step was to declare what we stood for.  We wanted to set out our principles – and the principles underpinning stem cell R&D – in a single document.  We reached out to Prof. Bartha Maria Knoppers at McGill University, one of Canada’s leading ethicists, who, with her colleague Prof. Rosario Isasi, helped draft the Stem Cell Charter setting out the core ethical values to be integrated into stem cell R&D.  Uptake was immediate: the International Society for Stem Cell Research signed on.  So did the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Canadian Blood Services and Stem Cells Australia, among others.  Realizing this could be big, we organized our first public awareness campaign.  People from 90 countries signed the Charter –  giving us a reach far beyond what we expected.

The campaign was so successful that our website, developed with Manifest, was nominated in the advocacy category of the 2010 Webby Awards, the Oscars of the Internet, in New York.  We made it to the finalists, where we were up against much-better-funded, bigger-staffed organizations like Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, which was building new sustainable, flood-proof houses in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference of 2009.  Guess what?  We won.

A big part of that campaign was the powerful We’re Not Rock Stars  video that we produced with Andy Keen, the Gemini and Juno award-winning filmmaker who directed The Tragically Hip documentary Bobcageyon.  He brought his passion for the subject to the project and, to this day, it remains a powerful statement on the importance of stem cell science.  The real trick, though, was getting so many of Canada’s top scientists – some of the busiest and most overbooked people around – in the same room at the same time.  The video has since been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

As the saying goes, you’re known by the company you keep.  From the earliest days, our Foundation succeeded in attracting some of Canada’s most highly regarded influencers and leaders.  Dr. Alan Bernstein, the inaugural head of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, agreed to chair a board that included former Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, STEMCELL Technologies powerhouse founder Dr. Allen Eaves, and former university presidents Drs. Martha Piper and Peter MacKinnon.  Business titans such as Stephen Snyder, who had run GE Canada and TransAlta Corp. and, more recently, Dr. Jim Spatz, one of Atlantic Canada’s leading real estate developers, and Miranda Hubbs, former managing director of one of Canada’s largest institutional asset managers, also came on board.

Beyond the directors, our Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle included almost 40 of Canada’s best and brightest company presidents and CEOs and philanthropists who not only provided financial support but priceless advice.  You can see the complete list here All our operations, by the way, were funded through the grace and favour of these private donors.  The Foundation never asked for nor accepted a dime of taxpayer money to do its work.

I mentioned earlier that Canadian pride was a driving force in creating the Foundation.  In 2005, when Drs. James Till & Ernest McCulloch won the Lasker Award – the most prestigious medical research award except for the Nobel – it started many of us thinking: why don’t more Canadians know about these two brilliant men who discovered stem cells?   Why isn’t there a book about them?  In the spring of 2010, I called in Joe Sornberger, a journalist who’d written extensively about stem cells, and, 18 months later, Dreams & Due Diligence: Till and McCulloch’s Stem Cell Discovery and Legacy was published by the University of Toronto Press The book, which has sold 3,000 copies so far, has been praised by reviewers for telling Till and McCulloch’s “amazing story …  wonderfully well.”

Speaking of Canadian pride, Canada’s scientists are a modest bunch.  They don’t bang the drum very loudly about themselves, or about each other for that matter.  We wanted to change that.  We wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Till and McCulloch’s stem cell discovery and, in the process, promote stem cell research.  We decided to hold a gala, the marketing for which was straightforward: “It’s not about being able to tell your grandchildren you were there; it’s about your grandchildren.”  In the spring of 2012, we cleared the cars out of the Mercedes Benz Midtown Toronto showroom and had 50 tables of 10 people, each with a top-notch scientist and a celebrity – people like Canadian Football Hall of Fame quarterback Damon Allen, the Tenors, three of the five Dragons’ Den dragonsChantal Kreviazuk and Dan Hill.  It was hosted by CBC’s Heather Hiscox.  Former multiple sclerosis patient Jennifer Molson told the assembled how stem cells gave her a second chance at life.  Jim Till got a standing ovation.  That the night was such a huge success was largely due to Hala Bissada, of Hala Inc., owner of one of the most highly awarded event firms in North America.

Given the amount of misunderstanding – and hype – swirling around stem cells, we wanted to help Canadians understand what these cells could, and couldn’t, do for them.  Working with the Network and science writer Maya Chaddah, we developed Toward Treatments, reader-friendly summaries of how stems cells are being applied in the treatment of 19 incurable diseases or conditions.  These have proven to be such a great resource that our partners at CellCAN have not only translated them into French, but added a graphic app called Reggie.  You can find it here.

While we have always been a small organization, no one ever accused us of thinking that way.  We believe that to fully capitalize on research gains, Canada needs to make a major commitment to stem cells and regenerative medicine.  We set to work and crafted the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy, a truly transformative plan created over two years through consultation with 150 scientists, medical doctors, leaders from the major health charities, investors, industry experts and philanthropists.  It calls for the delivery of 10 new curative therapies to the clinic within 10 years and a $1.5-billion investment, with two-thirds to come from private sources and one-third from the Government of Canada.

Which brings us to today.  As I said at the outset, when we established the Foundation, the goal was to make stem cells a national priority with the public, private industry and government.  Back then, we expected accomplishing that goal would take five to 10 years.

We were right.  Looking at the field today, the public’s appreciation of stem cell science has blossomed, with widespread recognition of the lives that are being saved and a growing understanding of Canada’s leading role – with statues of Till and McCulloch installed in prominent locations in Toronto and Vancouver.

Industry involvement has never been stronger: businesses are currently investing more than $300 million to take stem cell solutions from research labs to patients in hospital beds.  Major commitments by companies such as Versant, Bayer and GE Healthcare are breaking down the barriers to successful development of new therapies.  Meanwhile, Vancouver’s STEMCELL Technologies has grown into Canada’s largest independent biotech, preparing to expand its staff of 1,000 by 4,000 within 10 years.

Through the direct efforts of the Foundation, and in collaboration with our partners, the Government of Canada has come to understand that regenerative medicine can create thousands of knowledge-economy jobs, save lives and help ease the strain on our over-stressed health care system.  So far, the Government has committed more than $200 million in new funding to programs like the Medicine by Design program led by the University of Toronto in partnership with the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine.  It decided to renew support for the Stem Cell Network and played a key role in getting a cell-manufacturing centre up and running in partnership with the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine in Toronto.  It has enabled Québec-based CellCAN to move forward with cell therapy clinical trials.

Much of the Federal Government’s increased awareness arises from the Foundation-led advocacy campaign for the Strategy, which has been critical in defining priorities for action.  Recognizing the stem cell/regenerative medicine sector as one of four key sectors in which Canada can excel, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan recently created the Canada Research Co-ordinating Committee to find ways to reinvigorate federal science funding.  As part of that initiative, the Foundation is preparing a set of recommendations on how to better co-ordinate investment to build a world-class stem cell/regenerative medicine sector in Canada.

Making our submission to this effort will be a crowning achievement for the Foundation and is, in many ways, indicative of how it is now time for us to pass the torch.  The field is on solid footing and the future looks bright, with substantial investments in place and renewed advocacy efforts underway across the country.  It is not our wish to duplicate these efforts.

So, as we prepare to sunset the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation on December 31st of this year, we celebrate our achievements: making stem cells a national priority; helping scientists secure more funding for their work; advancing the development of new treatments for devastating diseases; and raising the profile of stem cell research and development.

Thank you all for your support over these past several years.  It has been invaluable.  We look forward to seeing what the future holds.

James Price is President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

 

 

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06
Dec 2017
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Our goal has been accomplished

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A message from Dr. Alan Bernstein, OC, FRSC, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. He is President and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

A message from Dr. Alan Bernstein, OC, FRSC, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. He is President and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

When I returned to Canada from New York after leading the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, it was relatively easy to decide to become involved with the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

One of the most exciting fields of scientific research and promising areas of clinical and translational medicine, stem cells hold huge promise for treating a diverse variety of human diseases, from cancer to neurological disorders to diabetes and more.   And Canada punches well above its weight, starting with the 1960s discovery of stem cells by Dr. James Till, who I trained with in the 1970s, and his partner Dr. Ernest ‘Bun’ McCulloch.   Many other Canadian scientists have subsequently contributed – with the discovery of cancer stem cells, neural stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells, to name just a few – to make Canada a world leader in the field.

I also agreed to chair the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Board of Directors because I had enormous respect for the people who were already involved, such as former university presidents Drs. Martha Piper and Peter MacKinnon of the Universities of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, respectively. The board also included the Hon. Anne McLellan, who I had worked closely with when I was head of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and she was Minister of Health.

The list of highly respected people didn’t end with the board. Largely because of the efforts of President and CEO James Price, the Foundation had enlisted prominent Canadians from across the country to join the Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle and show their support for stem cell science and its application to improving health. That was a significant achievement that not only gave the Foundation the credibility it needed but also signaled to the broader Canadian stem cell community that prominent Canadians were active supporters of their goals.

That’s a big reason why Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan, in her mandate letter to the new Canada Research Coordinating Committee last month, named stem cells and regenerative medicine as one of the four key areas for coordination amongst the four federal agencies involved in funding research in this country.  This is no accident: it represents the culmination of the efforts of the Foundation and the people associated with it.

In fact, the Foundation has had an important impact on the Federal Government’s appreciation of Canada’s strength in stem cell science and its increased awareness of the important work underway in labs across the country.  The now two-year extension of funding to the Stem Cell Network and funding of the $114-million Medicine by Design project at the University of Toronto, much of which is focused on stem cells and regenerative medicine, are indicators of the recognition by government that this is a central component of Canadian research and innovation.

There has been a significant impact on industry, as well.  People closely associated with the Foundation, like board member Dr. Allen Eaves, whose Vancouver-based STEMCELL Technologies does business around the globe, have shown you can build successful enterprises and generate the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars into the Canadian economy through stem cell research and development.  Similarly, the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars, largely by offshore investors, into BlueRock Therapeutics, a company dedicated to stem cell therapy for cardiac disease, is further evidence of both the strength of Canadian stem cell science and its promise for the treatment of serious human diseases.

Thanks to the efforts of many organizations and many people, the Canadian stem cell effort is in excellent shape.  There is positive energy around the country and there are outstanding young people entering the field, which, at the end of the day, is what really matters.  They see a great future in stem cells and regenerative medicine.

Because of all this, the Foundation’s board, after an extensive six months of deliberation, decided that our work is now done.  The Foundation has accomplished what it was created to do: raise awareness about the importance of stem cell research and the strengths of stem cell science across the country.  We were able to make key individuals aware of the value of stem cell research and development – both in terms of improving the health of Canadians and bolstering the Canadian economy.

While it is always easier to start new organizations than end existing ones, the Board of Directors unanimously made the difficult but wise decision to sunset the Foundation and to declare victory.  At the same time, the Board also expressed its sincerest thanks to James and to his Executive Assistant, Eileen Emmonds, and Susan DeLisle, Director of Development, for their utmost commitment to the Foundation and its goals and their outstanding efforts on behalf of the Foundation and stem cell science in Canada.

Dr. Alan Bernstein, OC, FRSC, has served as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. He is President and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

 

 

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06
Dec 2017
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What people are saying about the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation

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“When I first heard about the plan to launch the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, I had some private doubts.

 

 

“When I first heard about the plan to launch the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, I had some private doubts. A champion for stem cell research that wouldn’t fund any such research directly? However, people that I respected were involved in the plans, so I kept my doubts to myself. I’m glad that I did. At the time, support for stem cell research was inadequate relative to the potential of the research. Not quite a decade later, the situation has improved dramatically. Thanks to skillful advocacy of the kind championed by the Foundation, research on stem cells and regenerative medicine has a much higher profile and has increasing levels of support. The main need now is for talented people to get the job done.”

— Dr. James Till, University of Toronto Professor Emeritus and co-discoverer of stem cells

“Quite honestly, the Foundation was a big part of saving my life.  It was a great source of information for me as a patient and it led to meeting Dr. Harry Atkins at the Ottawa General Hospital and receiving a stem cell transplant to treat my scleroderma.  And since I’ve had the treatment, I know of six other scleroderma patients who have had the transplant in Ottawa, largely because of the work the Foundation did in helping raising awareness through its newsletter and as a result of a feature broadcast on CTV National News.”

— Dan Muscat, scleroderma patient and stem cell transplant recipient from St. Thomas, Ontario

“The Foundation certainly deserves a big round of congratulations for an amazing effort that has galvanized many sectors into supporting one of Canada’s strongest  but not widely appreciated  areas of science.” 

 Dr. Connie Eaves, Professor of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia; Distinguished Scientist, the Terry Fox Laboratory

“The field of stem cell and regenerative medicine research has witnessed remarkable advances over the past decade. Made-in-Canada cell therapy clinical trials for a range of illnesses, such as septic shock, heart and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and osteoarthritis are a reality, with more research on the cusp of reaching clinical testing. Our future is incredibly bright and we are thankful for the role the Foundation played in moving it forward.”

 Dr. Duncan Stewart, CEO & Scientific Director, Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine; CEO & Scientific Director, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

“When the Foundation was launched, it created an international affirmation of the importance of stem cell science to humanity.  It is striking how the principles of the Stem Cell Charter remain as important and relevant today as they were in 2009. Realizing the promise of stem cell science is now possible: gene editing technologies are poised to both accelerate research and therapeutic, clinical applications by 2020. The Charter is based on the World Health Organization’s constitutional declaration that ‘enjoyment of the highest attainable state of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.’ It’s time for a renewed call to action for stem cell science  as originally set out in the Charter.”

— Prof. Bartha M. Knoppers, Director of the Centre of Genomics and Policy, McGill University

“The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation has played a key role in promoting Canadian leadership in stem cell science and regenerative medicine to the public and to policy-makers.  Building on the legacy of Till and McCulloch, Canadian scientists are now poised to translate discoveries into new treatments for serious diseases using stem cell-derived products. The Foundation has helped bring the whole community together across the country to tell that story.”

— Dr. Janet Rossant, Senior Scientist, The Hospital for Sick Children and President of the Gairdner Foundation

“The Foundation has successfully raised awareness for stem cell research with the public and decision-makers. Today, there is not only increased support for stem cell research but a strong public interest to better understand stem cells and access regenerative medicine therapies.  We thank the Foundation for their efforts over the past seven years and believe that with stable and predictable funding for stem cell research, Canada will continue to be a global leader.”

 Dr. Michael Rudnicki, CEO & Scientific Director, Stem Cell Network

“The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation has helped to build the awareness, understanding and momentum in the stem cell community.  Their efforts have shown how stem cells have incredible potential to improve a number of diseases, and their approach fostered collaboration amongst many charities and organizations to advance science.”

— David Prowten, President & CEO, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Canada

“The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation has been the voice for the implementation of innovative cellular therapies that are revolutionizing the practice of medicine in Canada.  Their efforts have shone a spot-light on new life-saving treatments as front-line therapies that were not available to patients only a few years ago. Without their focused, national approach to prioritizing regenerative medicine in Canada, the sector would not have developed into the strong ecosystem that it is today. The Foundation was instrumental in the alignment of broad federal support and engagement towards major funding initiatives in regenerative medicine clinical trials.  CellCAN will work tirelessly to ensure the legacy of the Foundation lives on.”

— Dr. Denis Claude Roy, CEO, CellCAN Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network

“The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation launched in 2010 with a gala fundraiser and lots of fanfare and it has continued to raise awareness for the stem cell field in Canada ever since.  With a mandate to educate the public and influence government, the Foundation has paved the way for stem cell organizations in Canada to flourish.” 

— Dr. Michael May, President & CEO, Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine

 

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06
Dec 2017
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Did you know

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 that when the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation won its Webby Award in 2010, the nominees were selected by a panel that included Martha Stewart, the late David BowieHuffington Post creator Arianna HuffingtonSimpsons creator Matt Groening and Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson?

 that when the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation won its Webby Award in 2010, the nominees were selected by a panel that included Martha Stewart, the late David BowieHuffington Post creator Arianna HuffingtonSimpsons creator Matt Groening and Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson?

 that the Foundation’s Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle of benefactors includes eight Officers of the Order of Canada, two Members of the Order of Canada and two Companions of the Order of Canada?  The membership includes many of the titans of Canadian business, finance, and academia.

… that the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation was always a lean and nimble operation? At the time of its 2012 Renew The World Gala, which brought together 500 of Canada’s most influential business leaders, philanthropists, politicians and icons from science, the arts, sports, entertainment and media, the Foundation had one full-time and one part-time staff. The organization grew to a complement of five.

… that when the Foundation-funded book Dreams & Due Diligence: Till and McCulloch’s stem cell discovery and legacy was officially launched in the fall of 2011, MP Kirsty Duncan moderated a panel discussion at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto?  Dr. Duncan, who is now the Federal Government’s Science Minister, also hosted a “Till on the Hill” breakfast to make her fellow MPs and Senators aware of Canada’s role in the discovery of stem cells and the development of the science.

… that a Foundation-hosted gathering in Toronto was voted the Best Education Event by the World Presidents’ Organization (Ontario) in 2014? The WPO’s membership includes 8,000 present or former chief executive officers of major business enterprises from across the globe.

 

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06
Dec 2017
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Clinical trials watch

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The world’s first genetically modified stem cell trial for the treatment of cardiac disease has now treated more than three dozen of an expected 100 patients with “supercharged” cells to reverse damage after a heart attack.…

The world’s first genetically modified stem cell trial for the treatment of cardiac disease has now treated more than three dozen of an expected 100 patients with “supercharged” cells to reverse damage after a heart attack.

The clinical trial, part of the ENACT-AMI (ENhanced Angiogenic Cell Therapy-Acute Myocardial Infarction) study, is led by Dr. Duncan Stewart, CEO and Scientific Director of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, and Dr. Michael Kutryk, a cardiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

***

The world’s first gene therapy clinical trial for Fabry disease is set to launch.  Supported by the Philip S. Orsino Facility for Cell Therapy at the University Health Network in Toronto, it will be led by Dr. Armand Keating in collaboration with physicians across Canada.  Fabry disease is a rare condition caused by an inherited enzyme deficiency and can shorten lifespan by as much as 40 years.

To find out more about clinical trials and research projects currently underway in Canada, click here for information provided by CellCAN, Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network.  

 

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06
Dec 2017
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In her own words

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Anne McLellan, PC, OC, is best known for her work as a senior cabinet minister in the Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin Liberal Governments, where she was Minister of Natural Resources, Justice Minister, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Minister of Health, and was named Deputy Prime Minister. …

Anne McLellan, PC, OC, is best known for her work as a senior cabinet minister in the Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin Liberal Governments, where she was Minister of Natural Resources, Justice Minister, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Minister of Health, and was named Deputy Prime Minister.  A law professor at the University of Alberta before entering politics, she won election four times in traditionally Conservative Edmonton ridings by narrow margins, earning her the nickname of Landslide Annie.  Her life after politics has been busy: she serves as a Senior Advisor with Bennett Jones LLP and is a Corporate Director with Cameco Corp. and Agrium Inc., and is Chancellor of Dalhousie University.  Ms. McLellan is an original member of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Board of Directors, helping shape and guide the organization from the beginning.  Here she shares her thoughts on the Foundation, as it prepares to sunset, and on what needs to happen to move Canada’s stem cell/regenerative medicine sector forward.

Q:  Your background is in academics and law, and, of course, federal politics.  What piqued your interest in stem cells?

A:  When I was Minister of Health, people were learning more about the potential of stem cells.  And, of course, doctors in Alberta were developing the Edmonton Protocol for transplanting pancreatic islets to treat diabetes, so I was aware of that and had an interest in what these stem cells could do.  After I left politics, a good friend of mine suggested I talk to James Price about the prospect of establishing a stem cell foundation.  There was a lot of excitement about the possibilities and I wanted to become involved.

Q:  Much of the Foundation’s efforts went into trying to make the Federal Government aware of stem cells’ potential to offer new life-saving treatments for currently incurable diseases and, in turn, boost the Canadian economy by creating companies and jobs.  What impact do you think those efforts had?

A:  The Foundation raised the profile of stem cell research not only with the Government of Canada but also with the public.  Most Canadians – and I was one when I began this journey – didn’t know that Drs.  James Till and Ernest McCulloch were responsible for the discovery of stem cells.  The Foundation has helped people understand Canada’s historical strength in stem cell research and development and made the case that it would be a shame to let Canada fall behind in terms of the work being done around the world.  It helped successive governments understand that this is an area in which we have had an advantage and that we are in danger of losing that advantage if we don’t support it properly.

Q:  Have decision-makers in Ottawa embraced that notion?

A:  I think they have, though not to the extent we’d like to see.  The current Government has provided resources in different ways, including small amounts of money for the continuation of the Stem Cell Network and a larger amount of money for the Centre for Commercialization of Medicine in Toronto.  And there have been incremental increases to  research dollars.  But it is unfortunate that the Government missed an opportunity to fund and work with researchers, clinicians and the private sector to develop a multi-year, national stem cell strategy, which is what the Foundation put forward.  Then again, maybe it will happen, because that conversation has begun.

Q:  What will it take to move the field forward in Canada?

A:  There are a lot of people doing great work in different areas of the sector, but to maximize the potential of the work that’s being done we probably need a new governance structure that brings all the key actors in the stem cell sector together.  That structure would drive fundamental research, clinical research and industrial benefits.  We need to make sure that people across the stem cell sector are working together.  We can’t live in a world of silos or vested interests because, at the end of the day, stem cell research is fundatmentally about improving the well-being of humanity.

 

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15
Nov 2017
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Dr. Janet Rossant

Janet Rossant wins L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Award

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Dr. Janet Rossant, a long-time friend of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, has been chosen by UNESCO and the L’Oréal Foundation as one of five outstanding female scientists from around the world.…

Dr. Janet Rossant, a long-time friend of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, has been chosen by UNESCO and the L’Oréal Foundation as one of five outstanding female scientists from around the world.

Dr. Rossant is being recognized for contributing to the understanding of how tissues and organs are formed in the developing embryo, according to a news release from the University of Toronto. Her research is helping combat birth defects and other serious medical conditions.

“I am extremely honoured to receive this award in the company of the other amazing laureates from around the world,” says Dr. Rossant. “I hope to use this opportunity to encourage more girls globally to take up careers in science, math, engineering and medicine. The future is theirs to grasp.”

Along with her duties as a U of T professor, Dr. Rossant is a senior scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children and is president of the Gairdner Foundation. Originally from the United Kingdom, she trained at Oxford and Cambridge universities before coming to Canada in 1977.

“Janet has been a world leader in advancing the therapeutic potential of stem cells,” says James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, where Dr. Rossant chairs the Science Leadership Council. “Having done so much for science, she is completely deserving of this honour.”

The Women in Science Awards ceremony takes place in Paris in March. The other recipients are:

  • Heather Zar, Professor, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and Director, Medical Research Council Unit, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Meemann Chang, Professor, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology and Member of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
  • Caroline Dean, Professor, John Innes Centre, Norwich, United Kingdom
  • Amy T. Austin, Professor, Agricultural Plant Physiology and Ecology Research Institute, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Dr. Rossant is the second Canadian woman to be honoured with the award in recent years. Dr. Molly Shoichet, a University of Toronto biomedical engineering professor, was named a laureate in 2015.

 

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18
Oct 2017
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Diabetes Drug May Help to Fight Leukemia

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A study led by Dr. Mick Bhatia at McMaster University shows that a readily available drug that induces fat cell production in bone marrow also suppresses leukemia while promoting the production of healthy blood cells.…

A study led by Dr. Mick Bhatia at McMaster University shows that a readily available drug that induces fat cell production in bone marrow also suppresses leukemia while promoting the production of healthy blood cells.

“The focus of chemotherapy and existing standard-of-care is on killing cancer cells but instead we took a completely different approach which changes the environment the cancer cells live in,” Dr. Bhatia, Director and Senior Scientist with McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, explained in a press.  The study published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

Increasing fat cells in the bone marrow creates an environment that favors the growth of healthy blood cells and blocks out leukemic cells.  The team targeted a single cell type in one tissue and had positive results when tested in mice.

Dr. Bhatia believes that there is immediate translational potential with minimal side effects as the drug can be given in a much lower dose and with a shorter duration than in its intended use for diabetes treatment.  In an interview with CBC, Dr. Bhatia said that the team is looking to move to clinical trials on humans within two to three years.

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03
Oct 2017
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Commemorating the discovery of stem cells

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A bronze portrait of Drs. James Till and Earnest McCulloch has been placed at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.  Created by artist Ruth Abernathy, she depicts an intense conversation between two colleagues that is interrupted when a friend arrives.  …

A bronze portrait of Drs. James Till and Earnest McCulloch has been placed at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.  Created by artist Ruth Abernathy, she depicts an intense conversation between two colleagues that is interrupted when a friend arrives.  The two scientists turn to greet their friend with warmth. The piece encourages engagement and stools are provided for visitors to join the discussion.

The installation located at the entrance to the West Atrium between the new glass Atrium and The Heritage Building which is an ideal setting for a discovery made 55 years ago that has propelled science forward with the potential to cure devastating diseases like cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s and heart disease amongst others.

There is a sister installation at Science World in Vancouver that was unveiled about a year ago.  Both works were commissioned by Drs. Allen and Connie Eaves who had the privilege to learn from Drs. Till and McCulloch and have gone onto make significant contributions to the field.

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01
Aug 2017
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Private clinics promoting stem cell services on ClinicalTrials.gov

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ClinicalTrials.gov is a searchable database of clinical trials from around the world that are funded by public and private organizations.  It’s a registry hosted by the USA-based National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide doctors and their patients a resource to find appropriate studies for a variety of conditions. …

ClinicalTrials.gov is a searchable database of clinical trials from around the world that are funded by public and private organizations.  It’s a registry hosted by the USA-based National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide doctors and their patients a resource to find appropriate studies for a variety of conditions.  A search on July 27th showed that there were over 1,400 stem cell clinical trials actively looking for patients.

It’s a great resource, and we link to it on our website, but patients should be aware that the studies listed are not vetted by the NIH.

Some private clinics are using the site as part of their marketing efforts to recruit new clients as shown in a recent study published by Leigh Turner, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics.

“Many individuals use ClinicalTrials.gov to find legitimate, well-designed, and carefully conducted clinical trials.  They are at risk of being misled by study listings that lend an air of legitimacy and credibility to clinics promoting unproven and unlicensed stem cell interventions” said Professor Turner in an interview with RegMedNet regarding the study.

Professor Turner found that private clinics used terms such as “pay to participate”, “patient-funded” or “patient-sponsored” when listing on ClinicalTrials.gov.  Typically, patients are not charged to participate in a clinical trial but may be responsible for costs such as travel expenses.

The NIH recently added a disclaimer on the site that they do not endorse the studies listed and that patients should consult with “a trusted healthcare professional before volunteering for a study”.  In addition, patients and their caregivers should be given information on how the study will be conducted, what the risks are and what the road to recovery might look like.

For more information regarding stem cell clinical trials, the International Society for Stem Cell Research provides a Web feature called Considering a stem cell treatment.  For additional background, we recommend, What you need to know about stem cell therapies, a booklet prepared by the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, Albany Medical College and the Stem Cell Network.

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18
Jul 2017
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Stem Cell and Artificial Intelligence Researchers Collaborate to Understand Memory

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Oscar Wilde once poetically waxed that “Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us.”  Two University of Toronto researchers recently published a review paper in journal Neuron that pointed to the fact that we only keep the memories that really matter to us. …

Oscar Wilde once poetically waxed that “Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us.”  Two University of Toronto researchers recently published a review paper in journal Neuron that pointed to the fact that we only keep the memories that really matter to us.  Like a leather bound diary, our memory has finite amount of space and we erase the memories that we don’t have a particular attachment with to make room for new ones. This ultimately helps us with decision making as we only need to scan information that is valuable to us.

“It’s important that the brain forgets irrelevant details and instead focuses on the stuff that’s going to help make decisions in the real world,” says Dr. Blake Richards, co-author of the study, Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Biological Sciences, and a fellow in CIFAR’s Program in Learning in Machines & Brains, in an article posted on CIFAR’s website.  “If you’re trying to navigate the world and your brain is constantly bringing up multiple conflicting memories, that makes it harder for you to make an informed decision,” adds Dr. Richards.

Beyond being assured that memory loss is part of a healthy brain and intelligent decision making, the research is interesting because it combined learnings from artificial intelligence (AI) with available stem cell research regarding the role of neural brain cells in memory.

“Canadian researchers are world-class leaders in both stem cell research and artificial intelligence – two fields that have significant potential to transform society.  It’s truly exciting to continue this line of collaboration so that we can understand something as complex and important as the human brain” says Dr. Alan Bernstein, President and CEO of CIFAR and Chair of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

Further collaborations between AI and the field of stem cell research could help researchers predict other types of cellular activity and ultimately accelerate the delivery of new treatment developments to the clinic.

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27
Jun 2017
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STEMCELL Technologies named Company of the Year 2017 by BC Tech Association

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The B.C. Tech Association recognized STEMCELL Technologies Inc. as the Company of the Year at its annual Technology Impact Awards (TIA) held this month.…

The B.C. Tech Association recognized STEMCELL Technologies Inc. as the Company of the Year at its annual Technology Impact Awards (TIA) held this month.

STEMCELL Technologies is one of Canada’s largest biotech firms and develops stem cell tools for researchers across the world.  The company currently employs close to 1,000 people worldwide and saw its revenue grow 20% in 2016 according to an article posted by Business Vancouver.

Accepting the award, Dr. Allen Eaves, President and CEO, STEMCELL Technologies Inc. said “We want to be the company that is going to help support our health care system, [and] get it out of the terrible mess it’s in by providing new and wonderful tools that we will sell to the rest of the world,” as quoted by betakit.com.

We’ve written about Dr. Eaves previously on this site and his dedication to eradicating cancer.

Founded in 1994, the TIAs celebrate BC’s leaders and rising stars in the innovation and technology sectors.  According to the Association, the technology sector in BC delivers nearly $25 billion in revenue and has been one of the strongest contributors to BC’s economic growth over the past decade employing over 90,000 people across 9,000 companies.

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21
Jun 2017
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Growing Canada’s Talent Pool

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As Canada looks to grow our innovation economy, which is driven by entrepreneurship and increased productivity, the federal government has introduced a fast track work permit plan for highly skilled foreign workers to address our knowledge gap.   …

As Canada looks to grow our innovation economy, which is driven by entrepreneurship and increased productivity, the federal government has introduced a fast track work permit plan for highly skilled foreign workers to address our knowledge gap.   The program called Global Talent Stream launched June 12th and expedites the process for qualified and highly skilled talent to receive work permits in Canada within two weeks of applying.

“Being able to quickly attract the best and brightest minds to Canada — above and beyond the ones that already live here — is one way the federal government has listened to the needs of CEOs who are choosing to grow their companies in Canada”, notes Dr. Allen Eaves, President and CEO, STEMCELL Technologies Inc. in an opinion piece published in the Vancouver Sun .

Dr. Eaves knows first-hand what it takes to attract good people.  Starting with 8 employees in 1993, STEMCELL Technologies has grown to over 1,000 current employees and has plans to expand to over 4,000 in the next 10 years.  Over one-third of the staff hold a Doctorate or Masters and the majority of employees have a Bachelor of Science or Engineering degree.

This is good news for the stem cell sector as well as the general economy because of a multiplier effect.  According to economist Enrico Moretti, each new high-tech job creates five additional jobs in the service economy.  As quoted in the MIT Sloan Management Review, Moretti points out that “for each new high-tech job in a city, five additional jobs are ultimately created outside of the high-tech sector in that city,”   He cites occupations such as lawyers, teachers, nurses, waiters, hairdressers and carpenters.  This is three times higher than in other sectors such as manufacturing.

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10
May 2017
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New award launched to celebrate and promote stem cell science

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Applications for the Sartorius & Science Prize for Regenerative Medicine & Cell Therapy are being accepted now.  The annual prize will be awarded to a researcher whose work has advanced the field of regenerative medicine and cell therapy.…

Applications for the Sartorius & Science Prize for Regenerative Medicine & Cell Therapy are being accepted now.  The annual prize will be awarded to a researcher whose work has advanced the field of regenerative medicine and cell therapy.

The winner will receive $25,000 USD and their application essay will be published in Science magazine.  The Grand Prize also includes a 5-year membership to The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and an online subscription to Science.

Details about the prize and the application guide can be found here.

The prize is to raise the awareness for the field and is a collaborative effort between Sartorius, a leading pharmaceutical and laboratory equipment company, and AAAS.

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05
May 2017
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Dr. Molly Shoichet awarded prestigious Killam Prize

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Recognized for the contributions she has made throughout her career to advancing the field of stem cell research and regenerative medicine, University of Toronto’s Dr. 

Recognized for the contributions she has made throughout her career to advancing the field of stem cell research and regenerative medicine, University of Toronto’s Dr. Molly Shoichet has been awarded a 2017 Killam Prize along with $100,000 to advance her work.

“This award will accelerate our research and our efforts to improve the lives of people everywhere who are living with the effects of cancer, stroke, blindness and other currently irreversible conditions” commented Dr. Shoichet in an article published by the University of Toronto.

Dr. Shoichet’s research focuses on using biomaterials to enhance the effectiveness of stem cells in the treatment of conditions such as blindness and stroke.  She developed a hydrogel platform to deliver stem cells to the brain and eyes to restore vision by 15 per cent.  For that, and her other contributions to the field of stem cell research, Dr. Shoichet received the 2016 Till & McCulloch Award.

Beyond her research endeavors, Dr. Shoichet is a strong advocate for women in science and technology careers and was the L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Laureate, North America for 2015.  She also advocates for Canadian innovation and co-authored a piece published last year in iPolitics to promote Canada’s global leadership in the field of stem cell research and regenerative medicine.

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02
May 2017
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Dr. Duncan Stewart: "Be wary of any stem cell therapy that is fee-based and has not been validated through a complete clinical trial process."

More doctors treating aching joints with stem cells, even though treatment is costly, unproven and relief is only temporary

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It’s expensive, only temporary and lacks gold-standard proof that it actually works, but stem cell therapy for bad knees, hips and shoulders is taking hold in Canada.…

It’s expensive, only temporary and lacks gold-standard proof that it actually works, but stem cell therapy for bad knees, hips and shoulders is taking hold in Canada.

“The future is obviously injections of biologics,” says Dr. Tim Dwyer, an orthopedic surgeon at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto who has treated 20 patients’ faulty joints with stem cell injections at his private clinic. “One day we will look back and think joint replacement was a fabulous solution 30 years ago that now is quite a barbaric approach.”

We have written about these autologous (using a patient’s own stem cells) transplants in this space before. The first type, bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC) therapy, involves extracting stem cells from a patient’s pelvis and spinning them in a centrifuge before re-injecting the refined cells in the damaged joint. The second type, formally known as stromal vascular fractioning, involves removing adipose (fat) cells via liposuction, running them through a centrifuge to collect the stem cells and re-injecting them in the patient’s ailing joint. Both are usually done on a same-day outpatient basis.

Neither treatment has been proven effective in large scale, randomized controlled clinical trials in which one group of patients gets the treatment and another gets a placebo — with neither group (nor the researchers conducting the trial, for that matter)  knowing who got what until the data is collected and analyzed.

“That is correct, not at this stage,” says Dr. Dwyer. “We’re basing (the use of the treatment) on cohort studies looking at BMAC in the knee especially.”

Dr. Jas Chahal, a colleague of Dr. Dwyer’s at Women’s College Hospital, believes there is “good basic science,” to support the use of stem cell treatments for knees, hips and joints afflicted by osteoarthritis or damaged by injury. “BMAC has various factors in it that probably help inflammation and pain control. There is emerging clinical evidence in the form of case studies, groups of 10 or 20, who have had it and after 12-month follow-up had good results.”

However, Dr. Duncan Stewart, the President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, says patients “should be extremely wary of any stem cell therapy that is fee-based and has not been validated through a complete clinical trial process.

“Clinical trials exist to establish not just whether a treatment will work, but to ensure it is safe for the patient,” says Dr. Stewart, CEO of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and a leading authority on stem cells who has led or collaborated on more investigator-initiated cell therapy trials than anyone else in Ontario. “There are many promising stem cell therapies out there that are currently in clinical trials, but not all will approved for clinical use – and the only way we can know for sure is by collecting the proper data through a clinical trial that has regulatory and ethical approvals.”

For Dr. Dwyer, who sees the BMAC treatment as more effective but will provide the adipose-derived stem cell treatment for patients for whom BMAC isn’t appropriate, stem cell injections offer an option where none existed before.

“For 10 years of my career I’ve had to say ‘You’re too young to have a knee replacement and a knee scope won’t make you better, so there’s nothing we can do.’ That’s not a fun conversation to have three or four times a day.”

He charges between $3,000 and $3,500 per injection, none of which is covered by the provincial health insurance plan or by private insurance.

Some researchers and clinicians have taken things a significant step further by taking the BMAC cells and, instead of just running them through a centrifuge, culturing them in a lab to vastly increase the number of stem cells they can re-inject into the patient at a later date. But these treatments are significantly more expensive. Dr. Chahal is part of a team conducting a clinical trial extracting the mesenchymal bone marrow stem cells from patients and doing this kind of ex-vivo expansion and then re-injecting them at concentrations of 1 million, 10 million and 50 million cells. Researchers are currently collecting the data.

Of the 20 patients Dr. Dwyer has treated with the same-day therapy, “a couple” saw no improvement in their conditions. Most report feeling better. “Just yesterday I saw three people — two shoulders and a knee — and they were actually ecstatic. Now that’s just a cohort. But it certainly helped those people and they’re at the six-month mark.”

He points out that joint replacements are also not a sure thing.

“It’s not guaranteed that a knee replacement will help. Some 20% of people still have pain afterwards. And there’s always the chance that you get an infection, which can be a disaster. A lot of people, including myself, think that joint replacement is a last resort. So, obviously, having an injection that might take the pain away for a year is a very attractive option.”

Pain relief, if achieved, likely will be only temporary, says Dr. Dwyer. “We’re looking at a year,” says Dr. Dwyer. “For some people it will be more, for some it will be less. It will be something that you will need to have repeated. But if you ignore the financial cost of it, which is a significant factor obviously, and just look at whether you would like to have an injection once a year and not have a knee or a hip replacement, the answer is easy.”

BMAC and adipose stem cell treatments for arthritic and damaged joints have been around for about a decade and are widely available across the United States, with many Canadians travelling there to undergo them, sometimes paying exorbitant fees.

Here at the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, we get more patient enquiries and blog comments about stem cell treatments for failing joints — be it from either osteoarthritis or injury or overuse — than any other single condition. People are both intrigued and suspicious and are looking for guidance.

What is Health Canada’s position on the use of bone marrow aspirate concentrate injections/transplants to treat knees and hips?

The Office of Policy and International Collaboration at Health Canada’s  Biologics and Genetic Therapies Directorate  responded by email to say that “in some cases, autologous cell therapy products that are processed for a particular patient by a regulated health professional pursuant to the scope of their practice may not require federal pre-market regulatory authorization under the Food and Drug Regulations. They added that, based on the information we provided, “we do not have enough information to make a determination regarding the regulatory pathway that would apply to BMAC.”

Prof. Leigh Turner, a Canadian who is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota’s Centre for Bioethics, has followed the proliferation of clinics offering BMAC and adipose treatments in the United States. He says it’s “premature” for Canadian orthopedic surgeons and other physicians to charge for “so-called stem cell treatments” administered to patients with joint problems.

“Safety and efficacy of such interventions still needs to be evaluated in carefully designed and properly conducted randomized controlled trials,” says Prof. Turner. “Such studies will have to address whether stem cells obtained from BMAC, adipose tissue, or other sources are optimal when treating patients with osteoarthritis. Carefully designed clinical trials should also provide meaningful information about dosing strategies, optimal mode of administering cells, and the frequency with which injections will need to be provided.” And all that, says Prof. Turner, is conditional on stem cell interventions beating placebo during the randomized controlled trial process.

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26
Apr 2017
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Transplant recipients Miaya Killips

Scleroderma update: more lives saved through chemo/transplants

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Last fall we told the story of Dan Muscat, an Ontario jeweler whose combination chemo/stem cell transplant treatment helped him recover from scleroderma, an extremely painful, life-threatening autoimmune disease that hardens the skin and attacks internal organs.…

Last fall we told the story of Dan Muscat, an Ontario jeweler whose combination chemo/stem cell transplant treatment helped him recover from scleroderma, an extremely painful, life-threatening autoimmune disease that hardens the skin and attacks internal organs.

We believed then that his transplant, which took place at The Ottawa Hospital over the spring and summer of 2016, was the first time such a therapy had been tried in Canada. It even made news: CTV’s Avis Favaro profiled Dan early this year.

It turns out that other Canadian hospitals are trying — and have been using — the innovative therapy, which involves first extracting bone marrow stem cells from a patient to purify them, then wiping out their diseased immune system with chemotherapy, and finally returning the robust stem cells to the patient. The goal is to have these fortified stem cells rebuild a disease-free immune system.

Calgary’s Dr. Jan Storek has employed the chemo/stem cell treatment on “four or five” patients since 2011 and has contributed to the international Scleroderma: Cyclophosphamide Or Transplantation (SCOT) study, the results of which have yet to be published. He began working with the treatment in the 1990s at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle.

“I was part of the development of transplants for autoimmune diseases,” says Dr. Storek. “Then the University of Calgary hired me to start a research program in bone marrow transplantation including transplantation for autoimmune diseases.”

He points to the work of Dr. Sharon LeClercq, a Calgary rheumatologist and expert in systemic sclerosis, without whose involvement there would have been no Canadian participation in a randomized study. “Patients participating in studies, particularly in the three randomized studies leading to this success should also be greatly acknowledged,” says Dr. Storek.

One of his transplant recipients is Miaya Killips, pictured above shortly after her 2016 transplant and as she is today. Miaya, who lives in Spruce Grove, Alberta, was diagnosed with scleroderma three years ago. She suffered lung damage, along with hardening of the skin. “I had limited mobility because my joints were tight and I was not able to swallow well — I would choke on food.”

These days, things are much better. “Scleroderma-wise, I’m feeling great. My mobility is much better and I don’t have the pain I had before. I am not choking when I eat and my lungs have stabilized, which is good because before the transplant my doctor had me on a standby list for a lung transplant.”

An electrician by trade, she wants to go back to school as part of a career change. And she and her husband plan to start a family soon, using embryos harvested through in vitro fertilization before she underwent chemotherapy.

Shane Knihnitski received his stem cell transplant in February

We also heard from Shane Knihnitski, a 28-year-old heavy equipment mechanic who underwent a bone marrow stem cell transplant at Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital in February to treat his scleroderma, which had caused large calcium deposits to form at his joints, resulting in considerable pain and restricted mobility.

“Things are turning around,” Shane says, “and the skin is starting to loosen up. I wasn’t able to see my elbow for two years — it was a big lump like a soft ball — but I can see the bone again.”

Dr. Keltie Anderson, Shane’s rheumatologist, says that while “it’s still very early” Shane has regained “a fairly significant amount of mobility in his hands already.

“When I first started seeing him, he could sort of cup his hands but couldn’t make a fist. Now he can bring the fingers all the way to the palm — almost make a full fist. To have such change already is very impressive.”

That the stem cell transplant procedure is having good results comes as great news to rheumatologists like Dr. Anderson who, until now, had few weapons with which to fight this painful, life-stealing disease. “Basically, you would do cyclophosphamide (a chemotherapy medication to suppress the immune system) and then cross your fingers.

“In Shane’s case he not only has extensive skin involvement, he also had extensive lung involvement. His outlook was quite bleak. And he’s a young guy and (he and his wife) just had their first child.”

Dr. Mohamed Elemary, who directs the hospital’s stem cell transplant program, says Shane was originally referred to Dr. Storek for inclusion in the Calgary study but it had already been completed. “So we started to review the data and see if it was something feasible for him here in Saskatoon. The stem cell transplant unit is run by the cancer centre and by the health region with the University Hospital. We can barely accommodate our patients with malignancies.”

After receiving permission to try the treatment with Shane, making sure he was a good candidate for the procedure, and consulting with Dr. Storek, Dr. Elemary went ahead with the transplant two months ago. “Our concerns vanished because he did tremendously well and was out of the hospital almost two weeks after his transplant. I just saw him a couple of weeks ago and I was amazed at the way that he is responding.”

The treatment does not come without risks. In Shane’s case, he was told there was a 20% chance the treatment could kill him. “But he came through it with flying colours,” says Dr. Anderson. “The last time I saw him he looked great. He didn’t look like someone who’d just gone through ablative chemotherapy with a stem cell transplant. And he was more upbeat than I’d seen him in a long time.”

Dr. Elemary is hoping to get approval to treat another scleroderma patient with stem cells and “with the success of Shane’s story” is optimistic that will happen.

In May, Calgary’s Dr. Storek, with co-authors Drs. LeClercq and Andrew Daly, will publish a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, reviewing the challenges of integrating the treatment in Canadian hospitals, given that stem cell transplantation programs are set up to treat patients with malignant cancers. Dr, Storek also

Dan Muscat, whose recovery continues, is delighted that more scleroderma patients are getting the treatment. “I’m trying to get the word out. This should be an option for people when they are diagnosed.”

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04
Apr 2017
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Congratulations to Dr. Alan Bernstein – Awarded 2017 Henry G. Friesen International Prize

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Dr. Alan Bernstein, Chair of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, has been awarded the 2017 Henry G. Friesen International Prize in Health Research for his significant contributions to health and innovation.   …

Dr. Alan Bernstein, Chair of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, has been awarded the 2017 Henry G. Friesen International Prize in Health Research for his significant contributions to health and innovation.   The prize, established in 2005, recognizes “exceptional innovation by a visionary health leader”.

As the press release notes, there are many examples of Dr. Bernstein’s impact on health research and his ability to build strong collaborations.

  • As the inaugural President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, he brought together biomedical, clinical and social scientists and set the standard for transdisciplinary research in Canada.
  • Serving as the Executive Director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise in New York, Dr. Bernstein built an international alliance of researchers and funders to accelerate the development of HIV vaccines.
  • As the President & CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, he promotes collaboration on a global scale by forging partnerships between international researchers to work on health, social and technological challenges.

Dr. Bernstein’s own stem cell and cancer research is rooted in strong partnerships as we wrote about here when he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.   A fellow of both the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Science, he is an Officer of the Order of Canada.

As the Chair of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, Dr. Bernstein was instrumental in the collaborative effort that brought together 150 scientists, doctors, leaders from health charities, industry experts and philanthropists to craft the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy with a unified vision to deliver 10 new stem cell therapies to the clinic within 10 years.

“Helen Keller is attributed with the quote ‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much’ and Alan’s career characterizes the sentiment,”  noted James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation,  “We congratulate Dr. Bernstein on this award and thank him for his exemplary leadership”.

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28
Mar 2017
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Dr. Antoine Hakim

Stroke champion Antoine Hakim wins 2017 Gairdner Wightman Award

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Dr. Antoine Hakim, one of Canada’s truly inspirational medical leaders, is this year’s winner of the Gairdner Wightman Award.

Dr. Hakim is a long-time friend of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.…

Dr. Antoine Hakim, one of Canada’s truly inspirational medical leaders, is this year’s winner of the Gairdner Wightman Award.

Dr. Hakim is a long-time friend of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. He founded and led the Canadian Stroke Network that, in its early years, shared resources at The Ottawa Hospital with the Stem Cell Network — from which the Foundation sprang.

“We truly admire Tony Hakim for the amazing job he has done to advance stroke prevention and treatment,” said James Price, Foundation President and CEO.  “He has served as a model for us all in working to improve Canadians’ lives.”

In today’s Ottawa Citizen, health writer Elizabeth Payne describes how, after working as a chemical engineer in Alberta, Dr. Hakim switched to medicine because he wanted to do something “more relevant.”  On completing his residency in neurology at the Montreal Neurological Institute, he took up stroke as a research interest.

He became North America’s strongest advocate for increased use of the clot-busting drug TPA that, when administered in time, can greatly reduce the effects of a stroke.

“The revolution in stroke treatment,” the Citizen reports, “is seen in the many ‘miraculous’ recoveries he has witnessed in patients who come into the hospital severely handicapped and unable to speak and, within 48 hours, walk out of the hospital talking.”

At 74, Dr. Hakim continues his to enjoy his work, which gives him the opportunity to “keep pushing frontiers the best way I can.”

The other Gairdner 2017 laureates include:

  • Japan’s Akira Endo for the first discovery and development of statins that have transformed the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
  • California’s David Julius for determining the molecular basis of somatosensation — how we sense heat, cold and pain.
  • Toronto’s Lewis E. Kay for the development of modern NMR spectroscopy.
  • Italy’s Rino Rappuoli for pioneering the genomic approach, known as reverse vaccinology, used to develop a vaccine against meningococcus B.
  • Texas’s Huda Y. Zoghbi for the discovery of the genetic basis of Rett syndrome and its implications for autism spectrum disorders.
  • Brazil’s Cesar Victora, for outstanding contributions to maternal and child health and nutrition in low and middle income countries (John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award).

Winning a Gairdner, Canada’s top medical price, is often a precursor to even bigger things:  83 Gairdner laureates have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

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22
Mar 2017
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Canadian Stem Cell Foundation commends federal government’s support for the stem cell sector

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The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation commends the federal government for committing to invest in innovation “superclusters” and for identifying the stem cell/regenerative medicine sector as an area where Canada can excel.…

The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation commends the federal government for committing to invest in innovation “superclusters” and for identifying the stem cell/regenerative medicine sector as an area where Canada can excel.

“We consider today’s budget announcement to be a step forward for the stem cell sector in Canada – an industry that is helping to shape our innovation economy,” said James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

The government’s commitment to invest $950 million in business-led innovation superclusters with the greatest potential to accelerate economic growth mirrors the approach taken by the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation in championing the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy.  The Strategy is business led and calls for two-thirds of the total investment to be funded by the private sector, with one-third from government.

“The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy will generate more than $1 billion in private and philanthropic investments over its decade-long life, much of which has already been pledged,” Mr.  Price said.  “It is built to deliver 10 new therapies to the clinic within 10 years, create 12,000 jobs and position Canada as a global leader in the field.”

The supercluster initiative will launch a competition for funds this year with a focus on six “highly innovative industries” including health and bio-sciences.  The recommendation comes after the Advisory Council on Economic Development noted that Canada’s “world-class regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy development” could unlock innovation and drive economic growth.

The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, which has been calling on the federal government to implement the proposed national strategy, looks forward to working with its partners to answer the call for business-led innovation superclusters to advance stem cell therapies to save lives and grow the economy.

“Canada produces some of the best stem cell research in the world,” said Mr. Price.  “We must now translate our research into commercial success.”

 

 

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21
Mar 2017
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BBC program raises concerns over potential dangers of unproven eye treatments

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Last week we wrote about three women whose vision was lost or damaged after they were injected with stem cells derived from their own fat tissue in a Florida clinic.…

Last week we wrote about three women whose vision was lost or damaged after they were injected with stem cells derived from their own fat tissue in a Florida clinic.

This week, a Calgary doctor who uses our website “to educate patients on avoiding the ‘pop up’ shops” offering unproven stem cell treatments, wrote to make us aware of a BBC podcast called  Assignment that recently featured an episode titled The Stem Cell Hard Sell.

The UK program focused on another Florida clinic that provides — for a $20,000 fee — eye implants derived from bone marrow stem cells drawn from a patient’s pelvis.  Central to the piece is the story of an American man named George Gibson who claims he lost sight in one eye after undergoing the procedure.

The treatment is part of a clinical study that’s listed with the U.S. National Institutes of Health called The Stem Cell Ophthalmology Treatment Study-(SCOTS). However it is unclear if the study is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The BBC program points out that researchers usually do not charge patients for the treatments in a clinical trial or study because the outcomes can’t be guaranteed.  As we have written in this space before, having patients pay for treatments tends to encourage them to “buy into” seeing favourable results that might not truly be there.

Dr. Paul Knoepfler, an American researcher whose lab conducts stem and cancer cell research at the University of California Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento, writes extensively about unproven stem cell treatments. His blog, The Niche, has dealt with SCOTS, drawing comments from one man who claims his vision was significantly improved and from others — including Mr. Gibson — who warn against the treatment.

A press release about the SCOTS trial, says investigators “hope that the treatment will be shown to improve vision in the vast majority of individuals who are enrolled” and mentions that “previous anecdotal experience with eye disease treated with stem cells has been positive.” However a disclaimer states that “no guarantees of specific improvements or visual results are being made” and that “any medical procedure carries risks as well as potential benefits.” The study, to include 300 patients, has published two case studies of patients whose vision improved.

Our Towards Treatment section explains that we currently know of no Health Canada of FDA approved stem cell treatments for eye disease.  Anyone considering such a treatment or participating in a study or trial should consult with their doctors and medical professionals.  As well, the International Society for Stem Cell Research has great information for anyone considering any type of stem cell treatment. You can find it here.

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16
Mar 2017
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Unproven stem cell treatment leaves three women blind

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Three women who believed they were participating in a clinical trial either lost all or most of their vision after being injected with stem cells derived from their own fat in a Florida clinic. …

Three women who believed they were participating in a clinical trial either lost all or most of their vision after being injected with stem cells derived from their own fat in a Florida clinic.  The case points to the dangers of unproven treatments offered by private clinics.

Within days of treatment the women, who all suffered from macular degeneration, began to experience severe side effects including bleeding in the eye, detached retinas and vision loss as reported in a study released week in The New England Journal of Medicine.   Expert ophthalmologists tried to reverse the damage but were unable.

“There’s a lot of hope for stem cells, and these types of clinics appeal to patients desperate for care who hope that stem cells are going to be the answer, but in this case these women participated in a clinical enterprise that was off-the-charts dangerous”  said Dr. Thomas Alibini, a lead author of the study, in a press release.

This isn’t the first time there have been adverse reactions to unproven treatments offered at clinics, many using stem cells drawn from the patient’s own fat, and we’ve written about it several times on this blog warning patients to be cautious of claims that appear too good to be true.

So how can patients protect themselves?  The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine offers this advice:

  • There is almost no evidence that the fat/blood stem cell combination the clinic used could help repair the photoreceptor cells in the eye that are attacked in macular degeneration.
  • The clinic charged the women $5,000 for the procedure. Usually in Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved trials the clinical trial sponsor will cover the cost of the therapy being tested.
  • Both eyes were injected at the same time.  Most clinical trials would only treat one eye at a time and allow up to 30 days between patients to ensure the approach was safe.
  • Even though the treatment was listed on the clinicaltrials.gov website, there is no evidence that this was part of a clinical trial, and certainly not one approved by the FDA.

Most importantly, patients should check with their doctor before considering any medical treatment or participating in any clinical trial.  You can also find great information for patients considering stem cell treatments here that has been produced by the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR).

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09
Mar 2017
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Dr. Janet Rossant

New report echoes call to build on Canada’s stem cell strength

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Stem cells have the potential to transform Canadian health care by improving patient outcomes and making the system more efficient, according to a new report by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA).…

Stem cells have the potential to transform Canadian health care by improving patient outcomes and making the system more efficient, according to a new report by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA).

Titled Building on Canada’s Strengths in Regenerative Medicine, the report was commissioned by the federal government’s Ministries of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) and Health Canada

“We especially appreciate Science Minister Kirsty Duncan’s efforts at highlighting Canada’s academic research strengths in stem cells,” said James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. “This is another good example — this time focusing on academic strengths — of how Canada’s depth in stem cells and regenerative medicine is now being widely recognized.

The CCA document follows last month’s report by the Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth that singled out the stem cell sector and suggested that building on Canada’s “world-class regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy development“ could unlock innovation and drive economic growth.

The CCA report, the release of which coincides with the beginning of the two-day PanCanadian Strategic Forum on Cell and Gene Therapy in Montreal, hosted by CellCAN — Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network and BioCanRx.  It will feature a panel discussion, moderated by Mr. Price and featuring a talk by Dr. Janet Rossant, chair of the steering committee that produced the CCA report, looking at ways to move the field forward.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • There is a need for a long-term funding strategy to encourage research and development across the country.
  • There is an opportunity to accelerate translation of research discoveries into clinical applications.
  • There needs to be greater co-ordination between the federal regulators who decide about the safety and efficacy of stem cell/regenerative medicine therapies and the provincial reimbursers who decide what therapies will be covered by health care plans.

 

 

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28
Feb 2017
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UK study further substantiates stem cell treatment for MS

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Last summer we blogged about a team at The Ottawa Hospital that had proved a stem cell/chemo combo treatment could halt the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS) and — in some cases — help patients recover from the autoimmune disease.…

Last summer we blogged about a team at The Ottawa Hospital that had proved a stem cell/chemo combo treatment could halt the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS) and — in some cases — help patients recover from the autoimmune disease.

Now comes news from the United Kingdom that further substantiates the work of Drs. Harry Atkins and Mark Freedman in showing that using bone marrow stem cell transplants to rebuild an MS patient’s immune system can prevent the disease from worsening and dramatically improve mobility and freedom from pain for some.

The Atkins-Freedman study, published in the prestigious Lancet journal, focused on two dozen patients treated over a decade. The UK study, published last week in JAMA Neurology, reviewed 281 patients tracked over five years. Led by Dr. Paolo Muraro of Imperial College London, the study found the treatment prevented symptoms of severe disease from worsening for five years for almost half of the patients treated.  Drs. Atkins and Freedman co-authored the UK study and  results from their work were included in the review.

Among patients with relapsing MS, nearly three in four saw no worsening of their symptoms five years after treatment, while younger patients with less severe forms of the disease were more likely respond to the therapy. Most of the patients, though, had progressive MS, which is more severe.  Among them, one in three experienced no worsening of symptoms, according to a report by Imperial College.

MS occurs when a person’s immune system misfires and begins attacking nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Currently, there is no treatment for sever, progressive MS.

In essence, the new approach, which is called autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, involves extracting the patient’s own bone marrow stem cells and fortifying them, then destroying their immune system through chemotherapy. The stem cells are then transplanted back into the patient to rebuild the immune system — ideally without the disease.

The stem cell/chemo treatment is not for everyone who has MS — young people with more robust stem cells tend to respond better than older patients — and it comes with risks. Eight patients died following the treatment.

Dr. Muraro said the risks must be weighed against the benefits: “We previously knew this treatment reboots or resets the immune system – and that it carried risks – but we didn’t know how long the benefits lasted. In this study, which is the largest long-term follow-up study of this procedure, we’ve shown we can ‘freeze’ a patient’s disease – and stop it from becoming worse, for up to five years.”

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15
Feb 2017
2 Comments
Logo CELLCAN ANG

Strategic Forum on cell therapies asks, ‘Where do we go from here?’

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What will it take to move regenerative medicine forward so that it can deliver more cures and treatments for age-old diseases?…

What will it take to move regenerative medicine forward so that it can deliver more cures and treatments for age-old diseases?

That’s the subject of the First PanCanadian Strategic Forum on Cell and Gene Therapy to be held March 9 and 10 at the Westin Montreal.

“The cell and gene therapy ecosystem in Canada is coming to a level of maturity where we’re going to be ready to reap the fruit from it,” says Dr. Anne-Marie Alarco, former Chief Scientific Officer of CellCAN — Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network.  “But it’s not going to happen passively. We have to put action in place.”

CellCAN is organizing the Forum in partnership with the Centre for Commercialization of Cancer Immunotherapy (C3i) and BioCanRx.

There is a sense of urgency to begin harvesting the “low hanging fruit,” says Dr. Alarco.  Otherwise, she says, Canada could miss out.

Unlike the annual Till & McCulloch Meetings, which focus on the most recent scientific advances in cell therapies and regenerative medicine, the Strategic Forum will concentrate on what’s needed to move therapies into the clinic. Organizers expect to draw a range of academics, scientists, health agency representatives, government regulators, venture capitalists and business leaders from pharma and biotech.

“The idea is to bring together all the major stakeholders,” says Dr. Alarco, “to determine where we are in terms of cell therapies and gene therapies. We have all the elements for what we hope will be an interactive conversation.  Hopefully, we will come up with a number action items.”

Lectures and workshops will consider ways to overcome barriers to implementing cell and gene therapies in Canada; build on effective commercialization for the benefit of all Canadians; and identify reimbursement possibilities for developing novel therapies..

Keynote speaker Dr Janet Rossant, President & Scientific Director of the Gairdner Foundation and Chair of the steering committee of the Council of Canadian Academies Workshop on Regenerative Medicine. Their soon-to-be-released report was commissioned by the federal government.

As well, speakers from the United Kingdom, Japan and California will discuss steps taken in their jurisdictions to move the science from the researchers’ laboratories to the patients’ bedsides.

“It is the medicine of the future,” says Dr. Alarco. “We hope to have action items in for this to become a reality for Canadians.”

 

 

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14
Feb 2017
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Dr. Lambert Busque

Is Canada ready for The Next Big Thing in cancer treatment?

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Think of cancer immunotherapy as an inside job:  While chemotherapy and radiation destroy cancer cells from the outside, cancer immunotherapy deploys the patient’s own immune system to attack the disease from within.…

Think of cancer immunotherapy as an inside job:  While chemotherapy and radiation destroy cancer cells from the outside, cancer immunotherapy deploys the patient’s own immune system to attack the disease from within.

Cancer immunotherapy’s arsenal of immunotherapies ranges from monoclonal antibodies that can target malignant cells, inhibitors that help the immune system recognize and attack cancer cells, vaccines that trigger an anti-cancer response, and re-engineered and expanded T-cells designed to kill specific cancer cells.

For patients, the life-enhancing prospects of not having to endure the toxic side-effects of chemo and radiation are almost as appealing as the life-saving cures that this revolutionary field of oncological research is poised to deliver.

”The evidence suggests we are at the beginning of a whole new era for cancer treatments,” Prof. Peter Johnson, Director of Medical Oncology at Cancer Research UK, told the Daily Mail in 2015.  Things have only accelerated since then for The Next Big Thing in cancer care.

The cancer immunotherapy revolution is moving fast and turning the oncology world upside down, according to Dr. Lambert Busque, Chief Medical Officer of the Centre for Commercialization of Cancer immunotherapy (C3i).  Established last year by Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence, C3i predicts that immunotherapy could be used in the majority of advanced cancer cases in less than a decade.

Which raises the question: is Canada ready for this revolution in cancer care?

“There is a lot of knowledge and competence in Canada,” says Dr. Busque, whose C3i organization operates out of the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont’s Integrated University Center of East Montreal.  But, he says, Canada needs greater capacity to translate immunotherapies into patient care and to help Canadian companies compete in a rapidly growing global market.

To address those concerns, C3i is partnering with CellCAN Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network and BioCanRx to host next month’s PanCanadian Strategic Forum on Cell and Gene Therapy in Montreal.  Dr. Busque will moderate a panel discussion on what it will take for Canada to become a world leader in commercializing cancer immunotherapy, drawing on the C3i model.

“We designed C3i to be very close to the clinic,” says Dr. Busque.  “Because treatment and health care is part of the public sector while development is done in the private sector, the key is to make the link between them, to have a structure to help Canadian inventions mature rapidly and have better access to markets.  If we have no instrument to do that, the development will go outside the country.”

Canada, in fact, could become a hub for cancer immunotherapy development if 3Ci can succeed strengthening collaborations with major pharmaceutical firms in driving clinical trial development.  Dr. Busque cites C3i’s access to a “state of the art” certified Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) cell manufacturing unit as critical for conducting trials and developing cell-based and biological therapeutics.

C3i is also making the development of biomarkers a priority.  Because not all cancer patients respond in the same way with the same immunotherapy, researchers worldwide have focused their attention on developing biomarkers that can predict therapy outcomes and help doctors tailor treatments to a particular patient or type of patient.

“Biomarkers will be crucial in the development of therapies,” says Dr. Busque.  “So we are developing a biomarker unit with next generation computer sequencing to do cutting edge analysis of cellular biomarkers.”

Having already built a network of oncology centres across Quebec, C3i hopes to create linkages across Canada to expand access to patients for larger scale clinical trials.

“We’re not alone.  We’re going to be one piece of a large puzzle in Canada.  There are so many great contributions being made across Canada.  We hope to be a catalyst in respect to Canadian collaborations because Canada can be extremely successful.”

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06
Feb 2017
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Finance Minister Bill Morneau

Advisory Council on Economic Growth highlights Canada’s stem cell strength

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Building on Canada’s “world-class regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy development“ could unlock innovation and drive economic growth, according to an Advisory Council on Economic Growth report released Monday.…

Building on Canada’s “world-class regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy development“ could unlock innovation and drive economic growth, according to an Advisory Council on Economic Growth report released Monday.

The Advisory Council, created by Finance Minister Bill Morneau to find ways to unleash Canada’s economic potential, focused on four sectors in which “Canada has a strong endowment, untapped potential and significant global growth prospects.”  The four include:  agriculture and food (agfood); advanced manufacturing; energy and renewables; and health care and life sciences.

“It’s a clear victory for the stem cells to be included in this report,” says James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. “It shows that our message is getting through and that the Government of Canada recognizes the powerful potential of stem cells and regenerative medicine to not just deliver cures for a number of diseases but significantly boost the economy. “

The Foundation champions the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy, a 10-year private-public partnership that aligns the efforts of Canada’s  research scientists, medical professionals, industry partners and philanthropists to move therapies into the clinic, create thousands of high-quality jobs and secure a share of the burgeoning  regenerative medicine global market for Canada.

The Advisory Council favours such private-public partnerships, stressing that “government and business should work together to identify and remove the unnecessary obstacles to economic growth” and noting that such partnerships “would help raise our collective ambition and unleash Canada’s real and inclusive growth potential.”

As well, the report, the second of two the Advisory Council has submitted to Minister Morneau as he prepares the federal budget, suggests Canada “seize opportunities (for example by convening private and public actors and setting a sector wide aspiration).”

The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy “creates a roadmap for government and business to work together to do exactly that,” says Mr. Price. “It would clear hurdles for Canada to commercialize more research, bring more clinical trials on stream, develop more therapies and products, and create more jobs.”

Canada stands among the top nations in stem cells and regenerative medicine. The building block cells were discovered by two Canadians — Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch — in Toronto in the 1960s and subsequent generations of researchers have made some of the most important discoveries in the field worldwide. Clinical trials are underway in Canada using stem cells to treat type 1 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and septic shock, while doctors at The Ottawa Hospital have successfully used stem cells to treat autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and scleroderma.

However, Canada is falling behind in terms of funding, with other jurisdictions, particularly California and Japan, investing billions to find new therapies, develop new products and reap the economic benefits.

Minister Morneau established the Advisory Council in March 2016 to develop advice on policy actions “for strong and sustained long-term economic growth.” The first report, released in October, gave recommendations on investing in infrastructure, attracting foreign investment and enhancing economic immigration.

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16
Jan 2017
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Canadian Press photo

Globe series highlights Till & McCulloch’s remarkable stem cell discovery

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Sometimes popular recognition takes time.  After more than 50 years, Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch are finally getting their moment in the spotlight of public appreciation.…

Sometimes popular recognition takes time.  After more than 50 years, Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch are finally getting their moment in the spotlight of public appreciation.

The Globe & Mail’s ongoing Great Canadian Inventions series, which highlights people, products and discoveries that have changed the world, today features the two great men who proved the existence of stem cells back in the early 1960s. The series runs throughout 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

The Globe’s public health reporter André Picard reports that the discovery “is considered among the most seminal medical findings of the past century, on par with the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick.”

Stem cells have revolutionized cancer treatment and set the stage for the emergence of new therapies for a wide range of currently incurable diseases. New treatments are already succeeding in overcoming autoimmune diseases like MS.

Stem cells are also good for the economy.  The article cites STEMCELL Technologies, the Vancouver-based biotech company founded by former Till & McCulloch postgraduate student Dr. Allen Eaves, as a key player in a burgeoning field that is expected to produce a $49-billion global market within four years.

James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, notes in the Globe piece that the Till & McCulloch discovery initially didn’t get the attention it deserved. “But they set the stage for all the current stem cell research and helped make Canada a magnet for talent and investment in biotech.”

The article comes after last fall’s unveiling of the Till & McCulloch statue outside doors of BC’s Telus Science World in Vancouver. A duplicate statue is to be installed in downtown Toronto this spring.  It marks a considerable turnaround in recognition. In 2004, CBC Television ran a series called The Greatest Canadian, compiling a list of the 100 greatest Canadians ever. They followed it with a 2007 series on 50 of the Greatest Canadian Inventions.  While Don Cherry was featured in the former and the Wonder Bra in the latter, Till & McCulloch and stem cells were left out of both.

The Globe series, however,  got right to it in recognizing Till & McCulloch: they are the second Canadians to be featured this year after a Jan. 9th article celebrated how Jacques Plante changed the game of hockey by popularizing the goalie mask.

Dr. Till, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, remains busy as a leading advocate for opening access to scientific journals. Dr. McCulloch died in 2011. The remarkable story of Till & McCulloch’s stem cell discovery and their amazing legacy is told in Dreams & Due Diligence, published by University of Toronto Press and available through their website or via Amazon books.

 

 

 

 

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03
Jan 2017
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CTV tells story of Dan Muscat’s ‘180-degree’ turnaround

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In this blog and in our Fall/Winter newsletter we told the story of Dan Muscat, the St. Thomas, Ontario jeweler who has seen remarkable reductions in the symptoms of his scleroderma — a painful and deadly disease that turns the skin of its victims into cement-like hardness and then petrifies their internal organs.…

In this blog and in our Fall/Winter newsletter we told the story of Dan Muscat, the St. Thomas, Ontario jeweler who has seen remarkable reductions in the symptoms of his scleroderma — a painful and deadly disease that turns the skin of its victims into cement-like hardness and then petrifies their internal organs.

Over the summer, Dan underwent an experimental stem cell therapy at The Ottawa Hospital under the care of Dr. Harry Atkins, who has done outstanding work in treating patients with other autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Stiff Person’s Syndrome and Crohn’s disease using a combination chemotherapy/stem cell approach.

Avis Favaro reported on Dan’s “180-degree” turnaround on CTV National News last night, telling Dan’s powerful story. You can watch it here.

After the initial report, the CTV website provides a four-minute interview with Dan that goes into greater detail, along with interviews with Dr. Atkins and James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, who says “Dan’s story is an exciting one for the field.”

As Ms Favaro says at the end of her report, Dan continues to get improve and is now able to walk three kilometres on a treadmill. While the extreme treatment isn’t for all scleroderma patients — it comes with potentially fatal risks — it offers new hope where none existed before.

In the wake of the CTV story on Dan,  The Ottawa Hospital has produced an online resource for people seeking more information about chemo/stem cell treatments for scleroderma and other autoimmune diseases like MS and Stiff Person’s Syndrome. You can find it here.

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