Sue DeLisle

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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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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