Yuliya Shcherbina

07
Apr 2015
0 Comments

Dr. Molly Shoichet

Dr. Molly Shoichet and the future of regenerative medicine

Posted by

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to read more Close
31
Mar 2015
0 Comments

Liver failure: the promise of stem cells

Posted by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to read more Close
17
Mar 2015
0 Comments

Tricky science made simple, final chapter

Posted by

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

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

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

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

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

The remarkable video animation project includes seven other subjects:

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

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

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

Click to read more Close
02
Mar 2015
0 Comments

What’s Sam Weiss excited about?

Posted by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to read more Close
27
Feb 2015
0 Comments

What is Denis-Claude Roy excited about?

Posted by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to read more Close
26
Feb 2015
0 Comments

McLellan named chancellor of Dalhousie University

Posted by

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

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

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

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

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

 

Click to read more Close
25
Feb 2015
0 Comments

What is Connie Eaves excited about?

Posted by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to read more Close
24
Feb 2015
1 Comment

Cystic Fibrosis: the promise of stem cells

Posted by

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Christine Bear

Dr. Christine Bear

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

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

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

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

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

Click to read more Close
23
Feb 2015
0 Comments

‘Let’s get this done’

Posted by

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

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

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

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

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

canada stem cells

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

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

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

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

What’s Janet Rossant excited about?

Posted by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to read more Close
Back to Top