13
Oct 2011
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It Begins With Leadership

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If you are one of the thousands who signed the Stem Cell Charter, you showed your leadership and commitment to seeing this important field continue to progress.…

If you are one of the thousands who signed the Stem Cell Charter, you showed your leadership and commitment to seeing this important field continue to progress. Your leadership is being joined by others.

Today, we’re thrilled to share with you that Dr. Alan Bernstein has been appointed Chair of our Board of Directors (something you will read about soon in the national newspapers).

Dr. Bernstein was the founding President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and led the transformation in how health research is organized and funded in Canada. More recently, he was the inaugural Executive Director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise in New York, responsible for the 2010 Scientific Strategic Plan for HIV vaccine development, and facilitating and integrating the activities of the Enterprise’s partners.

Dr. Bernstein is recognized internationally as both a respected scientist with over 200 peer-reviewed scientific publications, and as an accomplished leader. His contributions to science have been recognized by many awards including the McLaughlin Medal of the Royal Society of Canada, the Robert L. Noble Prize from the National Cancer Institute of Canada, the Genetics Society of Canada Award of Excellence, and many others including the Order of Canada in 2002.

Upon accepting the role of Chair of the Board of Directors, Dr. Bernstein noted that there are few areas of health research that are as exciting and that hold as much potential for human health and disease as stem cells. In working with the Board and the leadership team, Dr. Bernstein believes that the Foundation has a great story to tell that will excite leading Canadians, policy makers, and the public about the importance of stem cell research.

Board of Directors

Dr. Bernstein is joined on the Board by Canadians who have demonstrated their commitment to research and ensuring Canada’s stem cell future.

  • Honourable A. Anne McLellan — Senior Partner, Bennett Jones, Corporate Director Nexen, Cameco, and Agrium. Former Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Minister of Health.
  • Dr. Martha C. Piper — Corporate Director for the Bank of Montreal, TransAlta, and Shoppers Drug Mart. Former President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of British Columbia.
  • Dr. Samuel Weiss — Chair of the Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, Director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, and 2008 recipient of the Gairdner International Award.
  • Dr. Allen Eaves — Founder, President & CEO of STEMCELL Technologies, Founder of the Terry Fox Laboratory for Hematology/Oncology Research.
  • Mr. David W. Hughes — President & CEO of Pathways to Education Canada and former President & CEO of Habitat for Humanity Canada.
  • Mr. Andrew Lyall — Executive Director of the Stem Cell Network and Chair of the Steering Committee of the International Consortium of Stem Cell Networks.

President’s Advisory Council

Complementing the Board is the President’s Advisory Council. These leaders are nationally recognized for bringing major initiatives to life in both the private and public sectors. The President’s Advisory Council includes:

  • Mr. Peter Bentley — Former Chair and CEO of Canfor, Former Chancellor of the University of Northern British Columbia
  • Mr. Charlie Fischer — Former Chair and CEO of Nexen, Former Vice-Chair of the Board of Governors for the University of Calgary
  • Mr. Eric Newell — Former Chair and CEO of Syncrude, Former Chancellor of the University of Alberta
  • Mr. Allan Taylor — Former Chair and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada
  • Mr. Milton Wong — Former Chair of HSBC Asset Management, Former Chancellor of Simon Fraser University

Science Leadership Council

In addition to the Board and the President’s Advisory Council, the Foundation has also established the Science Leadership Council that is comprised of leading stem cell scientists including:

  • Dr. Samuel Weiss — Director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary (Chair)
  • Dr. Tim Caufield — Director of the Health Law Institute, University of Alberta
  • Dr. Connie Eaves — VP Research at the BC Cancer Agency, Vancouver
  • Dr. Gordon Keller — Director of the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Toronto
  • Dr. Janet Rossant — Chief of Research at the Hospital for Sick Kids, Toronto
  • Dr. Michael Rudnicki — Director of the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research, Ottawa
  • Dr. Guy Sauvageau — Director of the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, University of Montreal

We hope that you will celebrate as their commitment to the Foundation joins yours. And we hope that you will continue to support them as you have supported us.

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Science Leadership Council

The Science Leadership Council is comprised of scientific and other thought leaders.  …

The Science Leadership Council is comprised of scientific and other thought leaders.  It meets at least once each year and provides the Foundation guidance on directions and priorities for advancing stem cell science in Canada.

Dr. Janet Rossant, OC, PhD, FRS, FRSC, (Chair), President and Executive Director , Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine; Chief of Research Emeritus , Hospital for Sick Children

Dr. Rossant is an internationally recognized expert in developmental biology.  Her research focuses on stem cell development and cell differentiation in the developing embryo, important areas for the study of birth defects as well as regenerative medicine.  Dr. Rossant has also played a leadership role in setting Canada’s public policy regarding stem cell research.

Dr. Mick Bhatia, PhD, Director & Senior Scientist, Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, McMaster University

Dr. Bhatia is a recognized leader in human stem cell biology and applications. His research focuses on developing abundant sources of human hematopoietic progenitors, and using human stem cells to develop treatments to eliminate tumour reoccurrence.

Prof. Timothy A. Caulfield, Research Director, Health Law Institute, University of Alberta

Prof. Caulfield leads a number of interdisciplinary projects that explore the ethical, legal and health policy issues associated with stem cell research, genetics, patient safety, the prevention of chronic disease, obesity, the commercialization of research, complementary and alternative medicine, and access to health care. He is the editor of the Health Law Journal and Health Law Review and author of The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness (Penguin Canada, 2011).

Dr. Connie Eaves, PhD, FRSC, Professor, University of British Columbia; Distinguished Scientist, Terry Fox Laboratory, BC Cancer Agency

Dr. Eaves is a leader in the field of hematopoietic stem cell biology whose work has led to advances in treatment for leukemia. Currently she is researching the unique properties of normal and cancerous stem cells in a variety of tissues to improve treatments for breast cancer as well as leukemia.

Dr. Gordon Keller, PhD, Director, McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University Health Network

Dr. Keller leads the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine located at the University Health Network in Toronto.  Dr. Keller’s area of research focuses on regenerative medicine and understanding how pluripotent stem cells – both embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells – give rise to specific cell types and tissues.

Prof. Bartha Maria Knoppers, OC, OQ, PhD, Director, Centre of Genomics and Policy, McGill University

Prof. Knoppers is a world-renowned bio-ethicist and holds the Canada Research Chair in Law and Medicine.  She is Chair of the Ethics Working Party of the International Stem Cell Forum, Co-Chair of the Sampling/Ethics, Legal and Social Implications Committee of the 1000 Genomes Project and a member of the Scientific Steering Committee of the International Cancer Genome Consortium.

Dr. Michael Rudnicki, OC, PhD, FRSCDirector, Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Dr. Rudnicki is Scientific Director of the Stem Cell Network.  His research is aimed at studying the function of genes involved in stem cell determination, proliferation and differentiation.  Dr. Rudnicki has done pioneering work in the area of muscle stem cells and his lab identified Pax7 as a transcription factor for the specification of satellite cells from progenitors present in adult tissues.

Dr. Guy Sauvageau, PhD, FRCPC, Scientific Director & CEO, Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, University of Montréal

Dr. Sauvageau is a researcher and clinical practitioner specializing in the transplant of bone-marrow-derived stem cells and in the study of the molecular mechanisms involved in their self-renewal.  Over the last 15 years, Dr. Sauvageau’s work has led to ground-breaking discoveries in understanding the production of hematopoietic stem cells.

Dr. Samuel Weiss, PhD, Director, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary

Dr. Weiss’ explorations into brain research have changed the fields of developmental neurobiology and neural regeneration.  In 2008, Dr. Weiss was the recipient of the Gairdner International Award for his work in neural stem cells.

Dr. Peter Zandstra, PhD, Professor, Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, University of Toronto; Chief Scientific Officer, Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine

Dr. Zandstra’s research is focused on the generation of functional tissue from adult and embryonic stem cells and his lab is specifically focused on the growth of human blood stem cells and the generation of blood and cardiac cells from embryonic stem cells.  The long-term goal is to generate transplantable blood stem cells and repair damaged tissues, such as hearts, with stem or progenitor cells.

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13
Feb 2015
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Tricky science made simple, Valentine’s edition

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When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of hearts. And when we think of hearts, we think of their life-sustaining role of pumping blood.…

When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of hearts. And when we think of hearts, we think of their life-sustaining role of pumping blood. But where does that blood come from? How does it get made?

A great resource to find answers to those questions and understand the role of stem cells in blood formation is now available. “What is a hematopoietic stem cell?” narrated by Dr. Connie Eaves is the latest video in Stem Cell Shorts series that explains how hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) produce new blood cells.

Contained in the bone marrow, HSCs can produce new blood cells or regenerate the blood production system. In fact, bone marrow transplants have treated patients with a variety of blood cancers and disorders, including multiple myeloma, leukemia and lymphoma for decades.

Dr. Eaves, a professor in the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia, is a leader in the field of hematopoietic stem cell biology. Her work has led to advances in treatment for leukemia. Currently, she is researching the unique properties of normal and cancerous stem cells in a variety of tissues to improve treatments for breast cancer and leukemia.

The new video, 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, is co-sponsored by the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation and the Stem Cell Network.

All the videos — including “What is a stem cell?” narrated by Dr. Jim Till, “What are embryonic stem cells?” voiced by Dr. Janet Rossant, “What are induced pluripotent stem cells?” narrated by Dr. Mick Bhatia, “What is stem cell tourism?” voiced by Prof. Timothy Caulfield, “What is a cancer stem cell?” narrated by Dr. John Dick, “What is a retinal stem cell?” voiced by Dr. Derek van der Kooy and “What is a hematopoietic stem cell?”  – are now available on the Foundation’s You Tube channel. Click here to view them.

The final instalment of the series,“What is a neural stem cell?” narrated by Dr. Sam Weiss, will be released soon. Stay tuned!

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13
Dec 2013
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Hans Messner

Dr Hans. Messner thanks friends, family and colleagues at Thursday's symposium tribute

A giant (in a roomful of stem cell giants) says goodbye

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Maybe you’ve never heard of Hans Messner.

He has never scored a Stanley Cup playoff goal. Never starred in a movie or a television show.…

Maybe you’ve never heard of Hans Messner.

He has never scored a Stanley Cup playoff goal. Never starred in a movie or a television show. He has neither held public office, nor called a press conference to apologize for bad behaviour.

He is, however, directly and indirectly responsible for rescuing thousands of people from leukemia and other blood-borne cancers.

Dr. Messner, who is retiring this month after a 44-year career at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, was a member of Canada’s first stem cell bone marrow transplantation team. For the past several decades, he led the Princess Margaret program that has performed more than 2,200 allogeneic (donor) transplants. The institution he served so well as both a caring doctor (former non-Hodgkin lymphoma patient Chris Taylor calls him “the epitome of hope”) and an internationally respected researcher (almost 200 publications listed on PubMed) honoured him Thursday with a symposium and reception.

More than 100 people — friends, family, colleagues and many young scientists he has inspired — braved bone-chilling weather to crowd into the MaRS Auditorium for the event.

Among them were some of the giants of stem cell research and bone marrow transplantation, then and now. Dr. James Till, who, with his research partner, the late Dr. Ernest McCulloch, first proved the existence of stem cells in the early 1960s, chaired the proceedings. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre’s Dr. Rainer Storb, who worked shoulder to shoulder with Nobel-winner Dr. E. Donnall Thomas in developing bone marrow transplantation, flew in from Seattle. Many originals from the days when Till & McCulloch ruled the Princess Margaret’s former Sherbourne Street research labs (the University of Toronto’s Dr. Norman Iscove and the University of British Columbia’s Dr. Connie Eaves) were there to compare current findings to early work in the field.  Others (Dr. Rick Miller, who devised some of the earliest cell-sorting tools to avoid graft-versus-host disease, and Dr. Allen Eaves, who took what he learned in Toronto and set up the transplantation program in Vancouver) attended simply to honour a man widely regarded as one of the hardest working and good-natured individuals ever to put on a white coat.  Two of Canada’s top cancer researchers — Drs. Tak Mak and John Dick — spent a rare afternoon away from their labs to pay tribute.

Dr. Messner, a German national, was recruited to the Princess Margaret by Dr. McCulloch after the two became acquainted at a conference in Freiburg in 1966.  After completing his MD, he did his PhD under Dr. McCulloch’s mentorship and by 1970 was a key part of the brand new transplant team.

While bone marrow transplantation is now standard care for leukemia, it was highly experimental at the time. In the 1960s, hundreds of attempts at transplantation by teams around the world  ended in failure. The Princess Margaret team scored its first success –a long-term survivor — with a 1972 transplant. The program, led by the persistent and persuasive Dr. Messner, has been extending, enhancing and saving lives ever since.

The store of knowledge that Dr. Messner built at Princess Margaret has been shared with clinicians and researchers across the country. As Dr. Lothar Heubsch explained at the symposium, the transplantation protocols Dr. Messner championed have been adopted and adapted to successfully treat multiple sclerosis patients at his Ottawa General Hospital and are now being used for other autoimmune disorders such as neuromyelitis optica, Stiff Person’s Syndrome and Crohn’s disease. That work is led by Dr. Harry Atkins, a true disciple of Dr. Messner.

“Hans exemplified a personal commitment to care,” Dr. Robert Bell, CEO & President of the University Health Network, told the audience. He described Dr. Messner as “a terrific doctor” and a “translational scientist who has had a huge impact on this country.”

On a personal note, Dr. Messner was an enormous help when I was writing the book Dreams & Due Diligence about Till & McCulloch’s stem cell discovery and legacy. A very busy man (does a life get any busier than treating cancer patients and conducting research?), Dr. Messner took the time to explain Canadian bone marrow transplantation history, drawing attention to one of the first procedures ever performed — in Regina in 1957. He did this even though we had never met and he had no idea who I was. Apparently, such acts of kindness are entirely typical.

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16
Apr 2015
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STEMCELL Technologies — Life Sciences Company of the Year

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STEMCELL Technologies, the largest biotech company in Canada, will be honoured tonight with the “Life Sciences Company of the Year” award from LifeSciences BC.

STEMCELL Technologies, the largest biotech company in Canada, will be honoured tonight with the “Life Sciences Company of the Year” award from LifeSciences BC.

Founded in 1993 by Dr. Allen Eaves, a Canadian Stem Cell Foundation Director, STEMCELL Technologies is a privately owned biotechnology company that develops specialty cell culture media, cell separation products and ancillary reagents for life science research. The Vancouver-based firm employs some 680 people who manufacture over 2,000 products for scientists in more than 70 countries worldwide.

Each year, a significant portion of STEMCELL’s profits is reinvested in stem cell research — a strong indication of its founder’s belief in the potential of the field.

“Stem cell technology is going to revolutionize medicine; that’s the reality,” says Dr. Eaves, President & CEO. “Medicine will be delivered by cells and we will be using cells to repair the body. There is this huge potential out there.” Click here to read our full interview with Dr. Eaves.

He also believes that to succeed in delivering new stem treatments, Canada needs the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan. Created by a coalition of scientists, medical doctors, leaders from major health charities, industry experts and philanthropists, the Strategy sets the course for Canada to lead the way in bringing up to 10 breakthrough therapies to the clinic by 2025.

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Board of Directors

Our Board of Directors is the governing body of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.…

Our Board of Directors is the governing body of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. It sets the overall strategic direction and policy for the Foundation and provides financial stewardship for the organization.

Alan Bernstein

Dr. Alan Bernstein, OC, PhD, FRSC, (Chair), President & CEO, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; Founding President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Dr. Bernstein was the founding President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research between 2000-2007. Following that, he went on to become the Executive Director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise in New York (2008-2011). His research on cancer and stem cells was conducted first at the Ontario Cancer Institute and then at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute where he served as the Director of Research from 1994-2000. Dr. Bernstein has received numerous awards and honours for his research, including the McLaughlin Medal of the Royal Society of Canada, the Genetics Society of Canada Award of Excellence and the Australian Society for Medical Research Medal. He is a Senior Fellow at Massey College, the recipient of 6 honorary degrees and the Gairdner Wightman Award and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Allen Eaves

Dr. Allen C. Eaves, OBC, MD, PhD, FRCPC, Founder, President & CEO, STEMCELL Technologies, Inc.

Dr. Eaves is the Founder, President & CEO of STEMCELL Technologies Inc. and its spin-off companies, Malachite Management Inc. and STEMSOFT Software Inc. He founded the Terry Fox Laboratory for Hematology/Oncology Research at the BC Cancer Agency, was Head of Clinical Hematology at the University of British Columbia and led building the Leukemia and Bone Marrow Transplant Program of BC.  Dr. Eaves has been elected President of the International Society for Cellular Therapy and the American Society of Blood and Marrow Transplantation as well as Treasurer of the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapies. He has been Board Chair of the Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems (MITACS) and is a Board Member of Mprime, the Stem Cell Network and the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine.

 

Ms. Miranda Hubbs, CFA, MBA, Independent Corporate Director

Ms. Hubbs is currently a Corporate Director of Agrium Inc., the Public Sector Pension Investment Board and has previously served on the Board of Directors of Spectra Energy Corporation. She is a member of the Canadian Red Cross Board of Directors as well as a founding member and past National Co-Chair of the Canadian Red Cross Tiffany Circle – Women Leading Through Philanthropy.  Ms. Hubbs holds a BSc from Western University and an MBA from Shulich School of Business at York University.

Peter MacKinnon

Mr. R. Peter MacKinnon, OC, QC, LL.M, President Emeritus, Athabasca University; Retired President & Vice-Chancellor, University of Saskatchewan

Prior to his retirement as President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan, Prof. MacKinnon served as Acting Vice-President (Academic), Dean of Law and Assistant, Associate and Full Professor of Law. His national appointments include the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service, the Science, Technology and Innovation Council of Canada, and the Canadian Judicial Council Chairperson’s Advisory Group. Prof. MacKinnon is the recipient of many professional and service awards including the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Anne McLellan

The Hon. A. Anne McLellan, OC, PC, Senior Advisor, Bennett Jones LLP; Corporate Director, Cameco Corp. and Agrium Inc.; Chancellor, Dalhousie University

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.  She served as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre from 1993 to 2006 and between 2003 and 2006 held the position of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.  Prior to that, Ms. McLellan was Minister of Health, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Minister of Natural Resources and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians.  Before entering politics Ms. McLellan taught law at the University of New Brunswick and the University of Alberta.

D-C Roy 3

 

Dr. Denis Claude Roy, MD, PhD, FRCPC, CEO CellCAN Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network; Research Director, CIUSSS de l’Est-de-l’île-de-Montréal

Dr. Roy is the Director of the Cellular Therapy Laboratory and the Scientific Director of the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Centre as well as a full professor at the University of Montréal and an adjunct professor at McGill University. The CEO of CellCAN Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network, Dr. Roy’s research interests focus on the immunobiology of stem cell transplantation. He is particularly interested in finding ways to eliminate the risks of stem cell grafts being rejected while optimizing their anti-cancer activity. 

Stephen Snyder

Mr. Stephen G. Snyder, Retired President & CEO, TransAlta Corp.

Mr. Snyder is a distinguished business and community leader who, as President & CEO, led the growth and development of a number of major Canadian businesses including TransAlta Corporation, Camco Inc., Noma Industries Ltd., and GE Canada. He is also a past Director of CIBC, Canadian Hunter and Zenon Environmental. Mr. Snyder’s commitment to the community is no less impressive: he has been asked to chair a number of prestigious charitable and non-profit organizations including the Calgary Stampede Foundation Campaign, the Alberta Secretariat to End Homelessness, the Canada-Alberta ecoEnergy Carbon Capture & Storage Task Force and the Conference Board of Canada.  In 2005, he was awarded the Alberta Centennial Medal and in 2009 received the Chamber of Commerce Sherrold Moore Award of Excellence. 

Jim Spatz 4

 

 Dr. Jim Spatz, MD

Dr. Spatz is the Chairman and CEO of Southwest Properties Ltd., one of Atlantic Canada’s leading real estate developers. Southwest owns, operates and develops residential and commercial real estate in Atlantic Canada, extended stay accommodations across Canada, as well as a multi-unit residential portfolio.He serves on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee and Blue Line Innovations Inc. and is a member of the Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank Advisory Board. Dr. Spatz serves as a Life Director of Neptune Theatre and has served on the Board of Governors of Dalhousie University, serving as Board Chair from 2008 – 2014. He currently sits on the National Executive Committee for the 2017 Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference, Canada’s most prestigious leadership development experience. 

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17
Mar 2015
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Tricky science made simple, final chapter

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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.

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22
Apr 2010
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Impressive little buggers, aren’t they…?

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David Kent

I was sitting at a microscope, looking down at one single cell – a nice tiny circle, not much different from an air bubble. …

David Kent

I was sitting at a microscope, looking down at one single cell – a nice tiny circle, not much different from an air bubble.  The senior PhD student in our lab shrugged as though this was old hat: “been there done that, now let’s get to work” – but I just sat there, jaw agape, thinking about how this air bubble was about undergo the most rigorous test that exists to tell whether or not it is a stem cell.  If successful this tiny sack of proteins would leave my field of view and complete billions of cell divisions on its way to single-handedly re-creating the entire blood system of a mouse.

The field of stem cell science has proceeded with breathtaking speed over the last ten years, but one thing is for certain – Stem Cells and Canada have a much longer relationship.  Pioneering experiments by Jim Till and Ernest McCulloch are internationally heralded as the first formal proof that stem cells exist. One year, at the Canadian Stem Cell Network’s (SCN) annual meeting – Jim and Ernest had just given a lunchtime talk –the SCN ran a small test. They asked, “If you were directly supervised by one of these men, please stand up”, then “If you were supervised by one of these people standing, please stand up.” After a few iterations, I realized that my grandparents (Jim and Ernest) had a pretty enormous brood: over 80% of the meeting’s 300 + delegates.  I now have thousands of stem cell cousins and siblings, and in my current lab in Cambridge, I just met my nephew for the first time.

Photo courtesy of highwaygirl67 on flickr

Photo courtesy of highwaygirl67 on flickr

It seems a long way from the street hockey and rock fights in St. John’s to my current research on diseases originating from blood stem cells – but if there’s one thing I’ve learned along the way, it’s that great things can come from the most unexpected of places.  It often has much to do with the people around you and a shared enthusiasm for what you are doing. Scientific research is all about inspired discovery – yes, even rock fights can help you discover things – and cultivating the culture of enthusiasm for discovery and critical thinking is the lynch pin for a successful research enterprise.  It means that the role of scientists, especially those in training to be scientists, is an important one and it is the big driver behind my extra-curricular efforts in groups like Let’s Talk Science, and with my newest project, which is a blog on issues affecting the training environment for scientists in our country.  At UBC, Let’s Talk Science consumed a fair amount of time outside the lab, but was a huge personal and professional benefit to me through its community involvement in the school system of British Columbia and through its work within the university to develop the communication and public outreach skills of graduate students and post docs.

I was lucky enough to co-ordinate the program with two amazing co-coordinators (Erika Eliason and Beth Snow).  Both Erika and Beth were also involved in a team of ~20 science trainees who gathered over three years to discuss the ideas and research that form the building blocks of the Black Hole blog which originally posed the question: What’s wrong with the science enterprise? The blog website hopes to reach out to science trainees, established scientists, and science policy makers across the country to identify the (sometimes worrying!) trends in science training, to inform them of excellent resources within and outside of the country, and to stimulate discussion on possible solutions moving forward.

Through this science advocacy work, I’ve learned an amazing amount from the people I’ve interacted with.  One of the most impressive things is the amount of interest there is from the public.  Canadians, when engaged, are actually extremely curious about stem cells and science in general.  I think the biggest roadblock is on the engagement front, but groups like the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, Stem Cell Network, the Science Media Centre of Canada, Let’s Talk Science and numerous others have really generated some excellent energy over the last decade, which is hopefully turning the tide.  Another great thing about public outreach is that the enthusiasm is contagious – day to day work in the laboratory is sometimes mundane, but when you can step back and look at the bigger picture about why you are doing what you do, you often rekindle the spark that originally drove you into that field in the first place.

What’s new and exciting about stem cells?

Even since I started my PhD (2003) at the Terry Fox Lab, there have been massive advances in the field.  Perhaps the biggest of these from a “why you should care” perspective are the reprogramming of cells and the accelerated rate of gene sequencing technologies.  Both of these came directly from the funding of basic “curiosity-driven” research and have evolved to have major clinical implications.  It is now possible to take a normal adult cell from anybody and fiddle with just 4 genes to bring it back to something that looks an awful lot like the most potent stem cells we know so far – embryonic stem cells.  This is very new stuff and lots of work needs to be done, but the possibilities are tremendous and warrant substantial investigation.

Secondly, the revolution in the speed of gene sequencing now makes the $1000 genome believable and nearly achievable.  Currently, it sits somewhere in the $30,000-50,000 range, but it’s on the way down.  I was at a talk last month, and one of the scientists who was responsible for these advances said: “If we tried to get funding for this today from a granting agency, many would throw it out immediately for being too blue sky” – this is because when they were uncovering the chemistry that drove this technology (in the early 1990s), it had no practical, translatable applications.  This runs counter to current policies which constantly seek proposals with direct clinical relevance or market translatability – a practice that is extremely short sighted.

Excitingly though, we are truly on the cusp of entering the era of personalized medicine (for diagnosis and treatment) and I hope that we do enough to inspire the next generation of scientists while bringing the support of the general public along with us.  For young scientists like me pursuing an academic research career, this means a concomitant emphasis on training/teaching, public outreach, and a general willingness to remove the blinders that academics often have firmly affixed to their heads.  Stem cells have a large role to play in this new age of biology and medicine and I’m thrilled to have been given the opportunity and inspiration to be a part of it.

David Kent is currently completing post doctoral research on blood stem cell disorders at the University of Cambridge, UK under the supervision of Professor Tony Green.  He completed his PhD in 2009 in blood stem cell biology under Professor Connie Eaves and has been a member of the Stem Cell Network since 2003.  David will also be one of the Stem Cell Network’s regular trainee bloggers, which can be found at http://scnblog.typepad.com, and continues to write his independent blog at http://scienceadvocacy.org.

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08
Sep 2015
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T&M Meetings bring together top minds in stem cell field

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Our Foundation is proud to be a major sponsor of the Till & McCulloch Meetings, Canada’s premier stem cell research event.…

Our Foundation is proud to be a major sponsor of the Till & McCulloch Meetings, Canada’s premier stem cell research event.

Named after Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, the conference brings together Canada’s leading stem cell scientists, clinicians, bioengineers and ethicists, as well as representatives from industry, government, health and NGO sectors from around the world. The 2015 Till & McCulloch Meetings will take place in Toronto from October 26-28, 2015 at the Sheraton Centre Hotel.

For more information about the conference or to register click here.

This year’s session will feature several scientists whose innovative research has been highlighted in this space, including Drs. Jeff Biernaskie, Connie Eaves, Tim Kieffer and Ivar Mendez. As well, Foundation President & CEO James Price and Board Chair Dr. Alan Bernstein will update delegates on the progress being made to secure support for implementing the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan. To show your support for the Strategy, click here.

 

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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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