We are at a crucial moment in time for stem cell research and development in Canada.
For almost two decades the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine “has been long on promise, short on product,” according to a feature article in the current issue Biotechnology Focus magazine.
But that is changing quickly, the article points out. In clinical trials underway across Canada, researchers are using stem cells to treat diabetes, heart attacks, osteoarthritis and spinal cord injury to name just a few. There is a growing feeling that the field is on the verge of delivering new treatments that will change the lives of patients suffering from chronic, debilitating diseases.
That sentiment was also on display at last week’s Till & McCulloch Meetings in Toronto. The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation is a partner with the retiring Stem Cell Network, the Canadian Centre for Regenerative Medicine and the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who co-host the premier stem cell event in Canada. It brings together some 400 scientists, clinicians and industry leaders to share insights into how to move the field forward.
Chosen as the 2015 Till & McCulloch Award Winner, Dr. Timothy Kieffer of the University of British Columbia gave the keynote lecture at the closing session and shared his optimism at the progress his lab and others are making towards defeating diabetes.
Drawing from a paper published in Nature Biotechnology last year, he described how his team reversed diabetes in mice using insulin-producing cells derived from human stem cells. Looking forward to moving his work into clinical trials, Dr. Kieffer says it’s just a matter of time before stem cells provide the needed source of cells to replace insulin injections, sparing millions of diabetics of the need for needles and rigorously monitoring their blood sugar levels several times a day. He predicts this will happen within 10 years.
In short, good things are happening. Obstacles are being overcome. Cures are on their way. The horizon is getting closer and we can see the possibilities more clearly now.