Feb 2013

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

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

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

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

A Unique Conversation

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

The Promise

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

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

The Politics

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

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

The Opportunities

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

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

This Was Just The Beginning

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

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

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

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

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