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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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